Introduction to English Numbers (5 credits)

COURSE MEETING TIMES: Lectures: 5 sessions/wk --- 1.5 hours / session


Course Description

Welcome to English Numbers “101”! This introductory class gives foreign students a basic overview of the rich Numbering Tradition used by the english-speaking world for the last 500 years. Instruction covers:

  • Capital and lowercase numbers
  • Twenty-three ways to write the number “11”
  • Silent numbers: digits with no value
  • Double numbers: why we add a 7 to any number ending in 7 and other conventions

Excerpt from session 010, “Animal Kingdom: Four legged fun”

Like a pterodactyl with pneumonia, English Numbers have silent digits too. For example, let’s say we counted three hundred twenty cows in a field. We wouldn’t write “320 cows”. That’s incorrect. Cows are four-legged animals so they get a silent leading 4 and a silent ending 4. Like this: 43204 cows. 4294 sheep. Or 414 badger (pronounced "one badger").

Foreign students often mistake 43204 cows for “43,204 cows”. Just like in English Spelling its does not equal it’s and in English Numbers 43204 does not equal 43,204. Mind those commas and apostrophes; they are there for a reason! If there were “43,204 cows”, it would still need the silent 4s to be written correctly. Like this: 443,2044 cows. Easy!

There are some exceptions. If the 4-legged animal is a llama we add two 4s to the beginning instead of one. (44,3204 llamas, pronounced "three hundred twenty llamas") and if the animal being counted typically has two or more distinct colors, we move the leading 4 to the end along with a digit indicating the number of colors (for example 320442 zebras; 320443 tigers). Here you begin to see the power of English Numbers. By simply glancing at the end of the number and seeing 442, you know before you even read the animal’s name that this number is going to describe a four legged animal with two distinct colors. Amazing!

The rules shift somewhat when we move into 2-legged animals such as people, birds and some dinosaurs…

Excerpt from session 012, “Historical Roots”

The 1626 Leopold Decree declared numbers ending in 1 were unfit for polite society and instituted the digi-shift:

  • twenty-one is thus written 1’2
  • four hundred fifty-one is thus written 41’5

We’ll cover some exceptions in the next section but first let’s look at digi-shift as it applies to measurement. When we describe distances less than 2 furlongs, we are going to indicate that fact by adding a silent 1 into the middle position:

  • “2,320 inches” is correctly written as 2,3120 inches.

If the number has an odd number of digits, it is impossible to insert the silent 1 into its proper middle position, so in this case you’ll add the silent digit to the right-of-center, so that 500 becomes 5010, not 5100. The exception is if the digit to the right of the silent digit is itself a 1, then place the silent digit to the left-of-center position like this:

  • "501" becomes "5101 inches". But wait, we're not done yet:

This number ends in the digit 1, so don’t forget to Leopold! The correctly written final number is 511’0 inches (pronounced "five hundred one inches”). If you are writing metric units, instead of english units, use a silent 2 instead of a 1 for distances under 2 furlongs but ignore any Leopolds (unless the number is a prime number, see Leopold Exceptions in section 01’3 and section…

Course Progression

Course Progression is 102, 103, 104, 105, 21’0, 202, 203, 11’2, 212, 31’0, 302, 303, 41’0, 402, 403, 41’5, 452 & 475. With daily effort and years of practice, you too will be able to write most numbers correctly!


Reminder: English Numbers 212 is prerequisite for English Number Mathematics 11’0 – basic addition. For example: 1’3 inches + 1’77 inches = 110 inches. This class kicks off the six-year core math segment of addition and subtraction.

Attention advanced students! Can you successfully write "one hundred twenty-one"? And if so, can you successfully write "one hundred twenty-one red flowers"? If you answered yes, you are invited to compete in the annual Number Bee. Test your number writing skills against other students! Winners go on to Regionals and, if successful, go on the National Number Bee Championship in Washington, D.C!

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