How to Say Big Numbers

For many students, very big numbers are difficult to read. For example, what is this number?


Can you read it? It’s four hundred thirty-six billion, seven hundred nine million, five hundred eighty-two thousand, one hundred fourteen. Let me show you how we do it.

In the United States, we use commas in large numbers. This separates large numbers into smaller pieces. Each small piece has no more than three numbers in it – 436 / 709 / 582 / 114. Think of them separately.

  • 436 = four hundred thirty-six
  • 709 = seven hundred nine
  • 582 = five hundred eighty-two
  • 114 – one hundred fourteen

Now you just have to say them in order, and when you see a comma, you add another word like thousand or million.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Say each smaller piece (3 numbers) and then the word at the comma.

  • 952 = nine hundred fifty-two
  • 716 = seven hundred sixteen
  • 301 = three hundred one
  • 400 = four hundred
  • 538 = five hundred thirty-eight
  • 952,716,301,400,538 = nine hundred fifty-two trillion, seven hundred sixteen billion, three hundred one million, four hundred thousand, five hundred thirty-eight

How do you say a zero?

hundreds-tens-onesIn a three-digit number (like 538), the number on the left represents hundreds. The number in the middle represents tens (20, 30, 40, etc.), and the number on the right represents ones (1, 2, 3, etc.). In 538, there are 5 hundreds, 3 tens, and 8 ones.

  • 500
  •   30
  •     8

When you see a zero (0) in the hundreds place, say nothing. There are no hundreds to talk about. For example, 76 has no hundreds. You don’t say, “zero hundred seventy-six.” You only say, “seventy-six.” When you see a zero in the tens place, say nothing. There are no tens. When you see a zero in the ones place, say nothing. There are no ones. Here are some examples of numbers with zeros.

  • 1,076 = one thousand, seventy-six
  • 403 = four hundred three
  • 820 = eight hundred twenty
  • 820,403 = eight hundred twenty thousand, four hundred three
  • 400,000 = four hundred thousand
  • 7,000,000 = seven million
  • 20,001,040 = twenty million, one thousand, forty

For Fun

Listen to this song, and read the words below. Then answer the questions.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets?
In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches? In miles?
In laughter? In strife?

In 525,600 minutes?
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love

525,600 minutes
525,000 journeys to plan
525,600 minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died?

It’s time now to sing out.
Though the story never ends,
Let’s celebrate, remember a year
In the life of friends!

Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Measure in love.
Measure, measure your life in love.

Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Your Turn

Think about the past year (from 12 months ago until now). Discuss with your classmates.

  1. How many cups of coffee have you drunk? What is your favorite kind of coffee? How do you prepare it?
  2. How many miles have you traveled? Where was your favorite place (only in the past year)? Where do you want to go in the next year?
  3. How many new people have you met? Did you meet anyone new who is now a good friend?
  4. How many times have you laughed? When was the last time you laughed really hard? What was so funny?
  5. How many difficult times have you had? What did you learn from a difficult experience?
  6. How many friends have you celebrated? Talk about a birthday party or wedding you attended recently.
  7. Say this number: 68,037,240,900,501. Ask your teacher if you are correct.
  8. Do you think we can choose to be happy? Do you think we should always try to be happy?
  9. Have you had a good year?
  10. What do you hope the next year will bring?

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