TEACHING SAYING NUMBERS IN ENGLISH
PART A: INTRODUCTION
One of the tasks of English teaching is to help students to use their
knowledge in real life situations. Our everyday English lessons present new
information about grammar or vocabulary which often has importance for
students. Such an approach makes English formal when students study some
grammar and vocabulary in order to get a grade. Is it possible to transform some
parts of the lesson into situations which students can face in their life?
I am writing this paper deriving from my teaching experience. Any secondary
students are certain to know well about numbers in written forms but when
several of my students are asked to tell me their email addresses so that I give
them information or exercises relating to my subject. A few numbers in their
firstname.lastname@example.org, … are talked as the year they were born nineteen
ninety five, double seven or ninety four…. The similar situation is telling
telephone numbers, serial numbers, or ID numbers…. Every new school year I
often ask the telephone numbers of some key students in case I need them for
schoolwork. A few of them separate the phone number freely. The number is
059 3824380 in which 059 is known as the code of Gia Lai, but it is
inattentively dictated “oh five, nine three, eight two, four three, eight oh” by
some students. Another notice of being unable to read a certain number I have
taken when I am teaching Unit 13 (Sea Games) or Unit 14 (International
Organizations) to Students Grade 12. Most of my students seem to get confused
when saying “zero, nought, nothing, nil or love” for figure 0 in football, tennis,
and other games. Also, several students unconsciously read seven April for the
foundation day of United Nations instead of the seventh of April, and so on.
That numbers are differently talked in various contexts is taught in a short
period of time. Their usefulness, however, stays essential in long daily life.
Throughout my time teaching English, I have noticed that most Vietnamese
students have been taught saying numbers since they began learning English at
school. I have read English textbooks Grades 6, 7, 8, 9 for Vietnamese schools,
I am convinced that a variety of lessons and skills relating to numbers written
basically and repeatedly in each higher level, but why students cannot read the
number language correctly while their period of learning is gradually rising. Is it
the memory no longer available? -what they learned on the previous day is
replaced by today’s input. Or because the memory is still stored in the memory
system but, for some reason, it cannot be retrieved due to lack of consolidation.
Either of these, the classrom teacher has been willing to help students revisie or
provide new language for them in the relevant lessons.
Scope of the study
Within the limited range of the next few pages, this paper attempts to
present a snapshot of important features in the general area of numbers whose
rules of reading high school students could not grasp. Its central focus is on the
use – where and when each form may be read or talked appropriately within the
scope of the study on verbal communication. Writing or listening forms of
numbers are merely mentioned in the role of supporting students in their
demand for reading numerals properly.
The data description is mainly taken into account of a number or symbol
that expresses an amount or a quantity, a number used to identify something or
communicate by telephone, fax, etc. The material for research is, therefore, in
the form of language used in different communicative contexts. It is not
concerned with such mathematical calculations, chemistry symbols, scientific
numbers and so on.
- Objective of the study
The main objective of the study is to support high schools students in their
efforts to eliminate a potential source of misunderstandings and mistakes of
saying certain numbers in English so that they are able to receive foreign
information more easily. Additionally, the study aims to help learners of
English as a foreign language recognize some differences in written forms
Vietnamese and British English or between British English and
American English. Further, they can avoid unexpected errors in doing scientific
Moreover, the paper introduces a source of information and
techniques revising or teaching saying numbers for secondary teachers who are
Methodology of the study
For this study, the following approach has been carried out. First, English
textbooks for Grade 6 7 8 9 are reviewed in order to get information on
students’ syllabus for making a suitable plan of revising or teaching new
language of numbers to upper secondary students. Second, relevant literature,
publications and studies are searched to access to in-depth knowledge of saying
numbers. The next step is checking again number language obtained from
literature and other sources. More importantly, what the study presents is
arranged scientically and logically. The styles and techqines of teaching,
suggestions of practice are regarded as the final collection.
PART B: DEVELOPMENT
This part describes the content of the study. The way of teaching students to
name numbers in English is not in fact teaching counting skills. It is assumed
that students have already known how to do this in their native language. It is
also noted that they are literate in the Latin alphabet and "Arabic" numerals.
Therefore, the definition of numbers is neglected in teaching saying numbers
which has merely been based on different practical uses: telling the time, giving
dates, going shopping, doing arithmetic, paying bills, identifying something, or
communicating by telephone, fax, etc. In my own view, clear presentation will
help students to acquire mastery of the English number system in the most
economical way, that is with a minimum of effort in the shortest time.
I. Refering to the forms of saying numbers
Learning numbers in English can be confusing. Is Valentine’s Day on February
14th , or February 14? Did the runner come in 1, or did he come in 1st in the race?
This paper researches on how to pronounce numbers, including: ordinal
numbers, fractions, decimals, dates, height, big numbers, telephone numbers,
measurements and even the numbers that appear in the names of Kings and
Queens. It explains the grammar rules we use for saying numbers and sentences
with numbers as well as highlighting some irregularities.
Cardinal and ordinal number:
The numbers one, two, three, four etc., are called cardinal numbers whereas
the numbers first, second, third, fourth etc., are called ordinal numbers.
Ordinal numbers are used before nouns. After a noun, we use cardinal numbers.
the fourth chapter – chapter four
the third act – Act Three
I. 1 Ordinal Numbers
Ordinal numbers are numbers used to referred the position of something, for
example: 1st, 2nd, 3rd. Most of them are formed by adding ‘th’ to the end of
regular numbers, for example: fourth (four-th), sixth (six-th), seventh (seven-th).
However, there are a few irregular ones: first (1st), second (2nd), third (3rd), fifth
(5th), ninth (9th) and twelfth (12th). Here is a list of the ordinal numbers from 1st
1st – first*
2nd – second*
3rd – third*
4th – fourth
5th – fifth*
6th – sixth
7th – seventh
8th – eighth
9th – ninth*
10th – tenth
11th – eleventh
12th – twelfth*
13th – thirteenth …. 19th – nineteenth
For multiples of ten, the ‘y’ at end of the word changes to ‘ie’ and the suffix
‘eth’ is added. For example, ‘twenty’ becomes ‘twentieth’. Here is a list of the
multiples of ten from 20 to 90:
20th – twentieth
90th – ninetieth
Note: You say 100th as ‘one hundredth’.
I. 2 Cardinal numbers
If a number is in the range 21 to 99, and the second digit is not zero, we should
write the number as two words separated by a hyphen:
Numbers over 100 are generally written in figures. However if you want to say
them aloud or want to write them in words rather than figures you put 'and' in
front of the number expressed by the last two figures. For example:
two hundred and three
(AmE: two hundred three)
six hundred and twenty-two
(AmE: six hundred twenty-two)
Numbers between 1000 and 1,000,000 is usually said or written in words as:
1,803 one thousand, eight hundred and three
(AmE: one thousand, eight hundred three)
1,963 one thousand, nine hundred and sixty-three
(AmE: one thousand, nine hundred sixty-three)
2,840 two thousand, eight hundred and forty
(AmE: two thousand, eight hundred forty)
123,000 a hundred and twenty three thousand
Four-figure numbers ending in 00 can also be said or written as a number of
hundreds. For example, 1800 can be said or written as "eighteen hundred"
We do not make hundreds, thousands and millions plural when the number in
front is more than one. For example:
200 – two hundred
1000 – one thousand
5,000 000 – five million
However, when there is no number in front, we have to add an ‘s’. For example:
Hundreds of pounds
Thousands of eggs
Millions of dollars
When the first figure is 1, we can say other ‘one’ or ‘a’. For example:
“He lived for a hundred years”
“You owe me one hundred dollars”
When is a billion not a billion?
In British English billion traditionally means a million million =
1,000,000,000,000 = 1012
In American English billion means a thousand million = 1,000,000,000 = 109
The American billion has become standard in technical and financial use.
However, to avoid confusion it is better to use the terms "thousand million" for
109 and "million million" for 1012.
Milliard " is French for the number 109. It is not used in American English but
is sometimes, but rarely, used in British English.
I. 3 Fractions, ratios and percentages
In order to say a fraction, we say the top number (numerator) as a regular
number and we say the bottom number (denominator) as an ordinal number. For
example, 1/8 is spoken as ‘one-eighth’.
If the top number is more than 1, then we pronounce the ordinal number as a
plural. For example, 3/8 is spoken as ‘three-eighths.
Here are some examples:
½ = one half
1/3 = one third
¼ = one quarter
1/8 = one eighth
7/12 – seven-twelfths
2/5 = two fifths
99/100 – ninety-nine one hundredths
1.5% = one point five percent
0.3% = nought / zero point three percent
2:1 = two to one
3/4 hour = three quarters of an hour
More complex fractions are usually expressed by using the word over.
218/576 = two hundred and eighteen over five hundred and seventy six
There are two irregular fractions: half is used in place of second and quarter is
used in place of fourth. For example, ½ is not said as ‘one-second’, it is called
‘one-half’, ‘a half’ or just ‘half’. Likewise, ¼ is not spoken as ‘one-fourth’, it is
called ‘one-quarter’ or ‘a quarter’.
1 ½ – one and a half
2 ¼ – two and a quarter
To pronounce decimals, we use the word ‘point’ for the dot and pronounce
figure by figure. For example:
0.5 - nought point five (British English) / zero point five (American English)
0.124 – nought point one two four (British English) / zero point one two four
4.25 – four point two five
0.67m – nought point six seven metres (or nought point six seven of a metre)
0.3L – nought point three litres (or nought point three of a litre)
1.8kg – one point eight kilograms
I. 4 Telephone numbers, serial numbers, registration numbers, box
These numbers are pronounced like poems.
Each figure is said separately. There is usually a pause after groups of three or
four figures. If the same figure comes twice, three times British people usually
say “double” or “triple”.
657 4481 – six five seven, double four eight one (British)
255 7989 – two double five seven nine eight nine
657 4481 - six five seven, four four eight one (US)
English speakers often say the letter "oh" for the number "zero". When "oh" is
combined with some numbers, it is difficult to hear. It is recommended to say
"zero" and "double zero".
Example: 237-0980 is usually said as two - three - seven, oh - nine - eight - oh.
1. When writing phone numbers, separate each group of digits with a hyphen
2. The area code is sometimes written inside parentheses ( ) and without a
hyphen: (520) 447-9821.
3. Extensions are part of many office phone numbers. To show an extension
number, the abbreviations Ex, Ext, or X are often used: 520-447-9821, Ex
213 (or Ext 213 or X 213).
4. If extension numbers have three digits, they're usually said as single-digit
numbers: X 517 = extension five - one - seven.
If extension numbers have two digits, they're said with single digits or like
normal two-digit numbers: extension 15 = extension one - five OR extension
by Dennis Oliver
I. 5 Dates
In English, we can say dates either with the day before the month, or the month
before the day: For example: The first of January / January the first (1/1).
15th March – the fifteenth of March / March the fifteenth
12th September – the twelfth of September/ September the twelfth
Remember to use ordinal numbers for dates in English.
(The first, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the twenty-second, the
I. 6 Years
We normally say a year in two parts. In the case of years ending in "00", we say
the second part in "hundred":
1058 - ten fifty-eight
1865 - eighteen sixty-five
1900 - nineteen hundred
1999 - nineteen ninety-nine
If there is a 0 in the ten position, we usually pronounce it ‘oh’. For example:
1908 – nineteen oh eight
1409 – fourteen oh nine
For years after 2000, we usually pronounce the whole number:
2002 – two thousand and two
2010 – two thousand and ten (a more informal way is to say twenty ten)
I. 7 Flight numbers.
We pronounce a flight number in two parts or digit-by-digit. For example:
VN 7427 – VN seventy four twenty seven (or seven four two seven)
VN 1248 – VN twelve forty-eight
SYD 2503 – SYD twenty-five oh three
HKG 3050 - HKG three oh five oh (or 'three zero five zero', 'thirty fifty')
I. 8 Height
Height can be said in centimetres or feet.
If we write in feet, a comma comes after the number of feet and quotations
come after the number of inches. For example:
5’10 – five foot ten or (five feet ten inches)
6’3 – six foot three or (six feet three inches)
Notice that you can say either ‘foot’ or ‘feet’.
Here are some examples of height in centimetres:
163cm – one hundred and sixty-three centimetres
158cm – one hundred and fifty-eight centimetres
I .9 Ways of saying the number 0 (Nought, zero, nil, love, nothing)
0 = nil
scores of 0
0 = love
0 = zero
to refer to
0 = nought
0 = oh
0 = oh (or
Depending on the context, we can pronounce zero in different ways: The figure
0 is usually called nought in British English, and zero in American English.
- We use zero to express some numerical values such as temperatures, taxes,
and interest rates in both British and American English.
- We can pronounce "oh" like the letter "o", when we are reading out numbers
figure by figure such as telephone number, flight number, bus number, room
number, credit card number, ID number, e-mail and Web addresses etc.
e. g. My phone number is ( 0914087833) oh nine one four oh eight seven eight
Room 101 = Room one oh one.
Bus 602 = Bus six oh two.
0C (temperature) = zero degrees
thuypk1995@gmail. com = thuypk one nine nine five at gmail dot com
Zero scores in team games are called nil. In tennis and similar games, the word
love is used for zero.
I. 10 Time
What's the time?
There are two common ways of telling the time.
Formal but easier way
Say the hours first and then the minutes.
7:45 - seven forty five
For minutes 01 through 09, you can pronounce the '0' as oh.
11:06 - eleven (oh) six
More popular way
Say the minutes first and then the hours. Use past and the preceding hour for
minutes 01 through 30. Use to and the forthcoming hour for minutes 31
through 59, but .
7.15 - fifteen minutes past seven
7.45 - fifteen minutes to eight
Another possibility of saying '15 minutes past' is: a quarter past
Another possibility of saying '15 minutes to' is: a quarter to
Another possibility of saying '30 minutes past' is: half past
5:30 - half past five
Use o'clock only at the full hour.
7:00 - seven o'clock (but 7:10 - ten past seven)
In English ordinary speech, the twelve-hour clock is used.
For times around midnight or midday you can use the expressions midnight or
midday / noon instead of the number 12.
Beispiel: 00:00 - midnight
Beispiel: 12:00 - midday or noon
To make clear (where necessary) whether you mean a time before 12 o'clock
noon or after, you can use :
3:15 - a quarter past three in the morning OR a quarter past three at night
More formal way of telling the time.
3:15 - three fifteen a.m.
Beside past Americans often use after.
06:10 - ten past / after six
But: in time expressions with half past it is not usual to replace past by after.
Beside to Americans often use before, of or till.
05:50 - ten to / before /of / till six
The chart below shows you two different ways to tell someone what the time is.
Question: What's the time, please?
- Answer: It's three o'clock
just gone three o'clock
three minutes past three
five past three
nine minutes past three
ten past three
a quarter past three
twenty past three
twenty-one minutes past three
twenty-five past three
half past three
twenty-five to four
twenty to four
a quarter to four
ten to four
five to four
three minutes to four
nearly four o'clock
three oh two
three oh three
three oh five
three oh nine
I. 11 Roman numerals
Saying Roman numerals is a basic skill that every student needs to
acquire. Roman numerals, though not used in arithmetic, show up in many
places, such as clock faces, chapter headings in books, official documents,
video games and copyright notices. If you watch an old movie and want to
know what year it was made, you will have to decipher the Roman numerals
that appear at the end, such as MCMLVIII. Difficult though they may seem,
Roman numerals are still a part of our culture, and therefore it is necessary to
learn how to read them.
- Years in old documents and on statue inscriptions. If you were reading one of
these out loud, you would say the year as if it were in Arabic numerals. If it is
written as, "The First day of January mdcclxxvii," you would substitute
- Pages of the introduction to a book, where if there are 12 pages of
introduction, they are i through xii, followed by page 1 of the first chapter. In
that case you would refer to page iii as "Roman three."
How are Roman numerals used today?
People use Roman numerals
- to make writing look fancy (on clocks and official documents),
- to avoid confusion with ordinary numbers (in outlines and the introductions
- The names of Kings and Queens are still written in Roman numbers.
It was built in the time of Louis XIV.
Queen Elizabeth II
Actual Latin speakers or more truthfully writers used Roman numerals instead
of the Arabic system English speakers use today. The following table shows
you the basic numbers, the Latin, and the pronunciation:
You can dictate Roman numerals by saying "Roman numeral" and the number.
I is said Roman Numeral one
IV is said Roman Numeral four
V is said Roman Numeral five
TIP: Don’t pause after the word “Roman Numeral” when you are dictating it.
Below is Roman Numeral
For large numbers, say the number in small combinations (as in the examples
Roman Numeral one
Roman Numeral four
Roman Numeral five
Roman Numeral ten
Roman Numeral fifty
Roman Numeral one hundred
Roman Numeral five hundred
Roman Numeral one thousand
Roman Numeral twenty four
However, when Kings and Queens have numbers after their names, we
pronounce them as ordinal numbers with the word ‘the’ in front. For example:
It was built in the time of Louis XII. (Louis the twelfth)
Queen Elizabeth II (Elizabeth the second)
Henry V (Henry the five)
The case is not similar when we pronounce Chapter VI (chapter six or the
sixth chapter - not chapter the six)
I.12 Letters as Numbers
The letter k is often used to denote a thousand. So, 1k = 1,000.
If you see a job advertised and it offers a salary of £12k it means £12,000.00.
The letter m is often used to denote a million. So, 1m = 1,000,000.
If you see a job advertised and it offers a salary of £12m, apply for it!
~ bn ~
The letters bn denote a billion. So, 1bn is usually 1,000,000,000 (see above).
If you see a job advertised and it offers a salary of £12bn, it's probably a
II. Writing Numbers
Why do we need to mention writing numbers in this paper?
Teachers of English as a foreign language are generally assumed to develop the
students´ abilities in the language. It is the application of an integrating
approach for the development of learners’ communicative skills, in which the
four skills in the acquisition of knowledge of a foreign language can be taught
in a coherent way, and practiced together, with a distinction of the importance
of one upon the other. We are in agreement that English is not just an object of
academic interest nor merely a key to passing an examination; instead, English
becomes a real means of interaction in real situations. Referring to my paper,
that is to say, we should teach or review how to write numbers accompanied
Here are rules of writing English numbers extracted from Chapter V- The
Blue Book of grammar and punctuation by Jane Straus-2008)
* Rule 1:
Spell out single-digit whole numbers. Use numerals for numbers greater than
Examples: I want five copies.
I want 10 copies
* Rule 2:
Be consistent within a category. For example, if you choose numerals because
one of the numbers is greater than nine, use numerals for all numbers in that
category. If you choose to spell out numbers because one of the numbers is a
single digit, spell out all numbers in that category.
If you have numbers in different categories, use numerals for one category and
spell out the other.
My 10 cats fought with their 2 cats.
My ten cats fought with their two cats.
Given the budget constraints, if all 30 history students attend the four plays,
then the 7 math students will be able to attend only two plays. (Students are
represented with figures; plays are represented with words.)
I asked for five pencils, not 50.
* Rule 3:
Always spell out simple fractions and use hyphens with them.
One-half of the pies have been eaten.
A two-thirds majority is required for that bill to pass in Congress.
A mixed fraction can be expressed in figures unless it is the first word of a
We expect a 5 1/2 percent wage increase.
Five and one-half percent was the maximum allowable interest.
The simplest way to express large numbers is best. Round numbers are usually
spelled out. Be careful to be consistent within a sentence.
You can earn from one million to five million dollars.
You can earn from one million to $5,000,000.
You can earn from five hundred to five million dollars.
You can earn from $5 hundred to $5 million.
You can earn from $500 to $5 million.
You can earn from $500 to five million dollars.
Write decimals in figures. Put a zero in front of a decimal unless the decimal
itself begins with a zero.
The plant grew 0.79 of a foot in one year.
The plant grew only .07 of a foot this year because of the drought.
Use a full stop (.) to separate the main part of a number from the decimal part.
3.062 means 'three point nought six two'.
Say point to refer to the full stop. You can use a comma (,) in large numbers to
separate the hundreds, thousands, and millions. 3,062 means 'three thousand
and sixty-two'. If the number contains seven or more digits, continue placing
commas after every three places.
Remember: Speakers of some other languages use (,) and (.) in the opposite
way - the commas for the decimals and the points for thousands, millions, etc.
Vietnamese language is an example. The Vietnamese means 3.062 'three
thousand and sixty-two'
The following examples apply when using dates:
The meeting is scheduled for June 30.
The meeting is scheduled for the 30th of June.
We have had tricks played on us on April 1.
The 1st of April puts some people on edge.
When expressing decades, you may spell them out and lowercase them.
During the eighties and nineties, the U.S. economy grew.
If you wish to express decades using incomplete numerals, put an apostrophe
before the incomplete numeral but not between the year and the s.
During the '80s and '90s, the U.S. economy grew.
During the '80's and '90's, the U.S. economy grew.
You may also express decades in complete numerals. Again, don't use an
apostrophe between the year and the s.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. economy grew.
Normally, spell out the time of day in text even with half and quarter hours.
With o'clock, the number is always spelled out.
She gets up at four thirty before the baby wakes up.
The baby wakes up at five o'clock in the morning.
Use numerals with the time of day when exact times are being emphasized or
when using A.M. or P.M.
Monib's flight leaves at 6:22 A.M.
Please arrive by 12:30 sharp.
She had a 7:00 P.M. deadline.
Use noon and midnight rather than 12:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M.
Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.
Forty-three persons were injured in the train wreck.
Twenty-three of them were hospitalized.
Write out a number if it begins a sentence.
Twenty-nine people won an award for helping their communities.
That 29 people won an award for helping their communities was fantastic! OR
That twenty-nine people won an award for helping their communities was
(Chapter V- The Blue Book of grammar and punctuation by Jane Straus)
III. Techniques teaching / revising saying numbers
The fact that school students have learned saying numbers in English
very early. They started getting familiar with numbers from Unit 3 of English
textbook Grade 6. And they are upgraded this knowledge within the process of
learning English. There are no longer individual lessons on numbers in high
school syllabus, therefore going over past lessons and past memory numbers
can help learners remember what they have learned “long term” and assimilate
it deeply into their consciousness, which is considerably very important.
From my practical experience, if we were to teach saying numbers over
again, there would not be any time left to teach the new lesson. Moreover, it is
not very interesting, either, to hear the same thing in the same way over again.
Younger children have no ideas, but secondary students or gifted students will
quickly get bored with it and soon they want to stop learning. They may get the
idea that the teacher does not have anything new or interesting to teach them.
Over twenty years’ teaching experience, the two major principles for good
review or teaching something new of saying numbers to high school students
1. It should not take up too much time.
2. We should use a variety of games, stories, riddles or video clips for
review to ensure that students do not get tired of it.
A review games, stories, riddles or video clips can be done in as long as 3
minutes each time. The time of warm up, motivation or extension is appropriate
to remind students what they used to learn.
Here are some alternative activities to use in English classroom (all
preparations should be made as closed students’ life as possible.)
This is an activity in which students try to guess the number with three cues
given, If a student can have the answer when the first or the second cue is given,
he / she is a winner.
o It is often used in Math.
o Its symbol is pronounced as a letter.
o It’s bigger than three.
(Answer: π /pi/ = 3.14159)
Special note: π /pi/ = 3, 14159 (in Vietnamese)
Who is it?
This is an activity in which students try to guess the person with the numbers
relating to him / her. The teacher prepares as many types of numbers as possible
and supply students with the cues until they realize. According to the classroom
atmosphere, the hot or latest news everybody knows or students’ interest, we
should find the interesting people such as singers, actors, hot boys, hot girls,
popular football players or even the school headmaster.