Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

French Numbers, Difficult? Count on It

May 19th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I have been in France for most of the past 40 months, and I not only lack the basics of the language here, I cannot even count to 20, much less 100.

Not knowing how to construct simple sentences? That’s my fault. I am not trying hard enough. Aside from my one sentence: “Desolee je parle pas francais.” Which apparently is not quite correct but seems to get across the key information: “Sorry, I don’t speak French.”

Or let’s concede I may be too old or dull-witted to pick up a new language.

However, I will not apologize for my inability to count to 100. Why? Because the French go about it in some crazy ways.

As can be seen in the video, above.

The video shows a young New York City cab driver who recently has had a French speaker in his car, and the cabbie has discovered several nutty aspects to one of the world’s most-spoken languages.

(Skip the first 38 seconds; it’s just the kid talking about taking Spanish in high school.)

He concedes no issues with the numbers from 1 to 16. But at 17 … we get the first hint of the weirdness to come.

17 is “10-seven”. 18 is “10-8” 19 is “10-nine”. Our counting suddenly involves addition.

Then comes the word for 20, “vingt”. OK, fine. But then you get 21, which is “20 and one”. After that you get back to normalcy, at 22 — “vingt-deux”.

That carries on through 69, with only the “and one” bits, following the multiples of 10, being a bit goofy.

But 70: That’s where it gets weird.

Seventy is rendered as “60-ten”. Seventy does not have its own word. It is 60 and then the word for 10. Why? Got me. Just is.

And then it gets weirder. Eighty is “four-twenty”, ninety is “four twenties ten” and the best is saved for the last three “two-digit” numbers — 97, 98 and 99.

I will kick it back to the cabbie for those three. I cannot explain them other than some randomness that got into the system and was never replaced, not even by Napoleon, who changed lots of stuff.

I will, however, link you to a list of the numbers in French, from zero to 100, which can be seen here.

Interestingly, French-speakers in Belgium, next door to France, have adopted some commonsense measures for 70, 80 and 90 — giving them their own names to avoid the “four twenties” and “four twenties ten” stuff. But the French are implacable about this. They have a group called the Academie Francaise which is supposed to look out for bad French, especially if it is English sneaking into French usage. “Le weekend” drives them nuts, as does “le parking”.

But when it comes to counting … how does the Academie defend that stuff?

It’s crazy, and I wake up every morning thinking “how can I learn a language in which expressing 97 requires addition and multiplication”?



0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment