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What's the biggest number you know in your language? Do you have a word that isn't an actual number but means a really really big number? In this session we have some fun facts and figures about big numbers and also advice on how to pronounce and write them.

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Large numbers

In this edition of 6 Minute Vocabulary, Callum and Finn talk about big numbers in English: how to say them and how to refer to them indirectly. We also hear some impressive statistics about Russia.

Listen to the programme

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Callum
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute Vocabulary with me Callum.

Finn
And me Finn. Today we’re talking about large numbers.

Callum
Particularly how we say and describe them in English. Here’s Anita, who’s giving a talk to a tour group visiting Russia.

Finn
Listen out for the answer to this question: How many metres high is Mount Elbrus?

INSERT
Anita
Russia is a land of superlatives! At over 6,500,000 square miles, it's the largest country in the world. And the total area of cultivated land has been estimated as a six-figure number: perhaps 500,000 square miles. Its mountain ranges contain Mount Elbrus, which at 5,642 metres is the highest point in both Russia and Europe. Of its rivers, which are in the hundreds of thousands, the River Volga, the longest river in Europe, is the most well known. And what about the people? Well, here’s an interesting fact: the number of languages spoken in Russia is in triple figures – yes, over 100!

Callum
So that was Anita. And we asked: How many metres high is Mount Elbrus?

Finn
And the answer is five thousand, six hundred and forty-two metres high.

Callum
Which is a good example of our topic today. When saying a large number, we always begin with the biggest number first. So thousands, then hundreds, then tens. Tens means numbers with two digits in them, like forty-two. Listen again.

Finn
Five thousand, six hundred and forty-two.

Callum
And the other point is, that the number labels are always singular. So five thousand and not five thousands.

Finn
Six hundred
and not six hundreds.

Callum
Exactly. Now, notice that we don’t connect thousands and hundreds with the word and. It’s five thousand, six hundred.

Finn
Not five thousand and six hundred.

Callum
But we do connect hundreds and tens with the word and. So six hundred and forty-two. And I think it’s time for our first clip.

INSERT CLIP 1        
Russia is a land of superlatives! At over 6,500,000 square miles, it's the largest country in the world. And the total area of cultivated land has been estimated as a six-figure number: perhaps 500,000 square miles.

Finn
So we heard six million, five hundred thousand. Notice that we don’t connect millions to thousands with the word and either, or in this case, millions to hundreds of thousands. We say it like this: six million, five hundred thousand.

Callum
Now, how did Anita describe the figure 500,000?

Finn
She described it as a six-figure number. Because it contains six digits. We could also say it’s a six-digit number.

Callum
Yes, we sometimes describe a number in this way to emphasise how big it is. And it doesn’t have to be six. It could be a five-figure or a four-figure number

Finn
Now, on to clip 2.

INSERT CLIP 2
Of its rivers, which are in the hundreds of thousands, the River Volga, the longest river in Europe, is the most well known. And what about the people? Well, here’s an interesting fact: the number of languages spoken in Russia is in triple figures – yes, over 100!

Callum
So how did Anita describe the number of rivers in Russia?

Finn
She said they’re in the hundreds of thousands.

Callum
When we want to describe approximately what a number is, we can say it’s in the tens, the hundreds, the thousands and so on. Hundreds of thousands means at least 100,000 and probably a lot more.

Finn
So you could even say that a number is in the tens of millions.

Callum
There was also an interesting fact there about the number of languages spoken in Russia.

Finn
Anita said they’re in triple figures. That means that the number contains three figures – so at least 100. It’s the same as saying that the number is in the hundreds.

IDENT           
6 Minute Vocabulary from bbclearningenglish.com.

Callum
And it’s quiz time! Number one: How do we say this number? 8-9-2-1. That’s 8-9-2-1.

Finn
It’s eight thousand, nine hundred and twenty-one.

Callum
Well done! Number two:  What kind of number is 300,000? Is it: a) a five-figure number b) a six-figure number c) a six-figures number?

inn
It’s b) a six-figure number.

Callum.
Correct! Number three: Listen to this number: 19,242. Is it a) in the thousands b) in the tens of thousands c) in the hundreds of thousands?

Finn
This one is b) In the tens of thousands.

Callum
Excellent! How did you do? Very well done if you got them all right. There’s more on this topic at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Vocabulary.

Both
Bye!

Downloads

You can download 6 Minute Vocabulary from our Intermediate Unit 25 Downloads page. Remember, you can also subscribe to the podcast version.

Vocabulary points to take away

When saying a large number, always begin with the largest number first and use singular number labels:

  • One million, two hundred thousand, four hundred and sixty-four. (1,200,464)

Don’t use the word and to join millions and thousands or thousands and hundreds:

  • Two million, fifty-six thousand, three hundred. (2,056,300)

But do use the word and to join hundreds and tens (tens are two-digit numbers):

  • Fifty-six thousand, three hundred and eleven. (56,311)

We sometimes emphasise how big a number is by counting the number of digits it has and describing it as a four-figure/five-figure or six-figure number:

  • I’m not sure what he earns, but it’s certainly a six-figure number. (100,000 - 999,000)
  • a six-figure salary

To describe approximately what a number is, we can say it’s in the tens/the hundreds/ the thousands/the millions. For very big numbers a number can be (in the) tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, tens of millions and so on:

  • They’ve cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from the budget.
  • Their assets alone must be worth in the tens of millions.

Another way of describing a number approximately is to say that it’s in triple figures (100-999):

  • The number of emails waiting for me after my holiday was in triple figures.

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Session Vocabulary

  • Saying large numbers

    Always begin with the largest number first. Use singular number labels:

    • One million, two hundred thousand, four hundred and sixty-four. (1,200,464)

    Don’t use and to join millions and thousands or thousands and hundreds:

    • Two million, fifty-six thousand, three hundred. (2,056,300)

    Use and to join hundreds and tens:

    • Fifty-six thousand, three hundred and eleven. (56,311)

    Emphasise a big number by describing it as a four-figure/five-figure or six-figure number:

    • I’m not sure what he earns, but it’s certainly a six-figure number.
    • six-figure salary

    We can say a number is in the tens/the hundreds/the thousands/the millions. For very big numbers a number can be (in the) tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, tens of millions etc:

    • They’ve cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from the budget.
    • Their assets alone must be worth in the tens of millions.

    We can say a number is in triple figures (100-999):

    • The number of emails waiting for me after my holiday was in triple figures.