How to Use Numbers in Spanish
How old are you? How many siblings do you have? How long have you been learning Spanish? These are just a few of the questions that you can answer with numbers! Los números help us quantify and categorize things or experiences in our lives. They are so important that they are essential for almost every area of human society, including economics, science, and many social interactions. Number awareness in Spanish will let you set a coffee date with a friend, barter down the price of goods at an outdoor market, and understand how many spots are left on the bus for travel. Let’s take a look at how to comprehend, construct, and pronounce numbers in Spanish! Then we’ll get into the games and learning activities we can use to memorize what we’ve learned. ¡Aprendamos a contar!
Types of Numbers in Spanish
Cardinal vs. Ordinal
Cardinal numbers are the simple, original form of a number: 1, 2, 3, etc. This is in contrast to ordinal numbers, which are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. As we begin our journey of number awareness, it’s important to start with cardinal numbers so that they can serve as the base for learning ordinal numbers later. Keep in mind that Spanish speakers use cardinal instead of ordinal numbers when talking about la fecha, or the calendar date. They add “de + month” after the cardinal number. An example is: veinte de julio (July 20).
Here we have a chart with numbers 0-20 in Spanish:
Spelling numbers in Spanish is easy once you understand certain patterns. If you remember, numbers 16-19 have a distinct pattern where they all begin with “dieci”. These numbers were originally written diez y seis, diez y siete, etc. and have since changed their spelling. In a similar fashion, the spelling for numbers 21 through 29 has changed. It is not uncommon to see these numbers written as veinte y uno, veinte y dos, etc. However, according to the Real Academia Española, this is no longer an acceptable form of spelling. The form we must learn combines the two numbers and changes the ‘y’ to an ‘i’. In order to move the emphasis to the last syllable, there is an acute accent mark on veintidós, veintitrés, and veintiséis.
How to Build Bigger Numbers
Numbers begin to build on each other after 15. You will see that deiciséis through diecinueve are a combination of diez + y + number. This was, in fact, how they were all originally spelled. This construction is currently used for numbers from treinta y uno (31) to noventa y nueve (99). By combining the number in the tens place (30, 40, 50, etc.) with the number in the ones place (1, 2, 3, etc.) and placing y in between, we form the following numbers:
Now, when we reach 100, we say cien, but any number between 101-199 uses ciento. Except for 500 (which is quinientos), numbers 200 and higher use cientos in plural form. These bigger numbers are a combination of the whole hundred + cientos + number. For example, doscientos diez (210), trescientos once (311), etc. This is different from mil, which is 1,000, where it does not add an -s for dos mil (2,000) and higher. Whew, what a mouthful! This can be tricky at first, but with plenty of practice, it will seem natural. Additionally, take notice of the spelling differences in the number (700) setecientos and (900) novecientos. Here is a chart of some of the bigger numbers:
Gender in Numbers
When we list Spanish numbers in their original form, they are generally gender-neutral. However, the whole hundreds in the numbers 200 through 900 change to feminine when they quantify a feminine noun, by changing -cientos into -cientas. In addition, numbers that end in -uno undergo a spelling change in certain conditions. If the number proceeds a masculine noun, such as 21 cats, the number 21 is written as veintiún gatos. However, if the number proceeds a feminine noun that begins with the letter a, such as 31 eagles, the number is most commonly written in masculine form: treinta y un águilas. Learn more about that here. When a number like 41 precedes a feminine noun that doesn’t start with an a, then the ending is -una: cuarenta y una manzanas.
To make the most of learning about numbers, we have to be able to pronounce them correctly! Check out our video to get you started on perfecting your pronunciation! Test yourself on some of the more difficult numbers that are similar in pronunciation and sometimes confused with one another!
Games and Activities
The best way to retain any new information is to play games, of course! Engage your senses and skillsets with some of these fun ideas:
- Bingo is a popular game and is especially helpful when trying to tune those listening skills. If providing for a bigger group of learners, you can print out blank Bingo cards, pass them out for students to fill in numbers in their numerical form, and you can call out numbers 1-100 at random. If you would like a pre-made set of 4 Bingo Cards and a Spanish Numbers Calling Sheet, feel free to use our free gift to you! (Find the link at the end of this blog!) It’s fun for the whole family and keeps learners excited.
- Catch and Count is a ball game that requires at least 2 players. Everyone stands in a circle and chooses the numbers they will be counting (from 1-50 or 1-100, for example). The person holding the ball says the first number then tosses it to someone else who must say the next number in the sequence. The group tosses the ball around until they reach the maximum number. If someone messes up, they have to start all over again!
- Uno is an obvious game to play to practice numbers, especially because of its name! While playing this family favorite, make sure to require that all players say the numbers in Spanish before they play them. Each player can say their number by using the phrase, “Yo tengo el número _____.”
Spanish Number Sense
Now that you’ve learned your numbers in Spanish, you can practice using them with friends, family, or in the classroom. Expand your knowledge by taking online classes with Homeschool Spanish Academy where you will learn how to have conversations using numbers! Your journey into Spanish learning is well on its way now. Keep up the good work and stay inspired with our other blogs!
Keep practicing with our Bingo game!