Spanish employs cardinal and ordinal numerals (as does English). You are probably more familiar with the cardinals—numerals that express quantity and are used for counting: one, two, three, and so on. In fact, Spanish often uses cardinal numerals even when American English would choose ordinals—numerals that show the order of an item in a given series: first, second, third, and so on.
The Basics: 0–15
The single-digit numbers 1 through 9 are the most utilized in Spanish because they are employed alone and within larger numbers. All you really need to do is memorize the first nine, plus the word for 0 and 10 through 15; the rest is a matter of combining what you already know. When simply counting, numerals stand alone. Treat them as you would pronouns:
When enumerating items, however, the numeral is acting as an adjective and precedes the items enumerated. Any number above uno requires the use of the plural form of the item (see Chapter 4 for rules on how to add plural endings to nouns). Keep in mind that the actual numeral employed will not be in the plural form for quantities less than 200. For example:
|un sacerdote||one priest|
|una bebida||one drink|
|cinco dedos||five fingers|
|cinco quejas||five complaints|
|ocho vestidos||eight dresses|
|ocho cortinas||eight curtains|
The cardinal number as a preceding adjective often enumerates the quantity of items. When the cardinal number follows the item(s), it is limiting the discussion to the item in the position described by the number. For example: cinco volúmenes (five volumes), as opposed to volumen cinco (volume five).
Moving On: 16–99
Double-digit numbers are formed similarly to the way they are formed in English. For example, “21” is “twenty-one.” If you know the words for “twenty,” “thirty,” “forty,” and so on, as well as how to count from 1 to 9, you will be able to come up with any number from 1 to 100.
It is pretty much the same in Spanish. First, you need to learn the numbers divisible by 10:
The rules are slightly different for numbers 16 through 29 than for 30 through 99. Take a look at how the numbers 16 through 29 are formed:
For numbers 30 through 99, the rule is exactly the same, and there is no need to combine the number into one word: The two components remain connected by a y (and). Here are a few examples:
|36||treinta y seis|
|48||cuarenta y ocho|
|59||cincuenta y nueve|
|81||ochenta y uno|
Next Up: Hundreds
In Spanish, you rarely if ever say “one hundred”—instead, you simply say cien (hundred). Any number between 101 and 199 uses the term ciento in combination with the numerals specified in the previous section. Notice that a conjunction is not used between the “hundred” and “ten” words:
|131||ciento treinta y uno|
|177||ciento setenta y siete|
Multiples of 100 are cientos. To create a specific number of “hundred” units, all you really need to do is combine the number of 100s with cientos:
Notice that the words for 500, 700, and 900 do not follow the regular numeral + cientos pattern. To review, they are: quinientos (500), setecientos (700), and novecientos (900).
It follows, then, that for numbers 201 to 999, the process for putting together the numbers goes like this:
|331||trescien tos trein ta y uno|
|447||cuatrocientos cuarenta y siete|
Keep in mind: You should use y only between the “tens” and the “units” values. Otherwise, the y is omitted (so, treinta y ocho, but trescientos ochenta). Also, the numbers containing “hundreds” parts do conform to the gender of the nouns they modify. For example: trescientas casas (300 homes), quinientas veintiuna quejas (521 complaints).
Like cien, mil (thousand) generally exists without a preceding article. Unlike ciento, however, mil does not take on any endings when it is part of a number. For any number of thousands above 1,000, simply place the number of thousands before mil (dos mil, tres mil, and so on). For example:
|1,216 mil doscientos||dieciséis|
|2,331||dos mil trescien tos trein ta y uno|
|3,477||tres mil cuatrocientos setenta y siete|
|45,783||cuarenta y cinco mil setecientos ochenta y tres|
Spanish provides two equivalent constructions to express the collective noun “thousands”—miles de + noun or millares de + noun. For example: Miles de personas votan. Millares de personas votan. (Thousands of people vote.) Preference for one expression over the other is largely a regional issue.
Note that when you write in Spanish, you use a period instead of a comma to separate the digits in numbers greater than 1,000, and vice versa for the sign used to denote decimal points.
|3.000||3,000 (three thousand)|
|4,7||4.7 (four point seven)|
Last but Not Least: Millions and Beyond
This is a time to recall the warning on misleading cognates from the first chapter. Though some Spanish and American English numbers do coincide (like million and millón), larger numbers do not. Compare:
|mil millones||one billion|
Use the following examples to practice what you have just learned.
|1,000,001||un millón uno|
|2,000,002||dos millones dos|
|1,000,000,345||mil millones, trescientos cuarenta y cinco|
|14,500,900,005||catorce mil quinientos millones, novecientos mil, cinco|
|1,000,100,700,000||un billón, cien millones, setecientos mil|
A subtle change in meaning occurs when you begin using numbers in the millions and larger. You already know that “hundreds” and “thousands” no longer describe the quantity of things, but that they themselves become the objects of discussion. This is generally true of one million and beyond. Whereas you can say cien mujeres (100 women), you cannot say un millón mujeres—the correct phrase would be un millón de mujeres (one million women), where de mujeres describes the million. If you are talking of an unspecified number of books ranging in the millions, then you would say millones de libros.
With regard to the use of a number as an adjective or a noun, de is inserted between a specific number and the accompanying items only for numbers specified to the nearest (whole) million and above. For example: dos millones de pesos (two million pesos), but dos millones tres pesos (two million and three pesos).
First, practice recognizing Spanish numbers that you encounter. Below, fill in the correct digits of a number expressed in Spanish.
|3.||cincuenta y cuatro||_____________|
|4.||noventa y tres||_____________|
|6.||doscientos setenta y nueve||_____________|
|7.||quinientos sesenta y dos||_____________|
|8.||setecientos treinta y cinco||_____________|
Next, practice translating from English into Spanish: