French Approximate Numbers

les nombres approximatifs

Approximate numbers are used to describe ‘about’ a certain amount of something. English equivalents are ‘scores of’, meaning ‘tens of’ or dozens of , meaning ‘about twelve of’. French has more approximate numbers than English. They’re mostly formed by adding -aine to the cardinal number and omitting the final -e.

about eightune huitaine8 days = about 1 week
about tenune dizaine-x on dix becomes a -z
about fifteenune quinzaine-e on quinze dropped; means 2 weeks
about twentyune vingtaine
about thirtyune trentaine-e on trente dropped
about fortyune quarantaine-e on quarante dropped
about fiftyune cinquantaine-e on cinquante dropped
about sixtyune soixantaine-e on soixante droppped
about a hundredune centaine
about a thousandun millier

notes and explanations

All of the above approximate numbers are feminine with the exception of un millier. The structure for describing an approximate amount of something is un + approximate number + de + noun. Here are some examples:

  • Je connais un dixaine de personnes. I know about people.
  • Il y a une trentaine d’étutiants dans la salle. There are about 30 students in the room.
  • J’ai visité Paris une trentaine de fois. I visited Paris about thirty times.

In the plural form, un becomes des. Examples:

  • Il y a des milliers d’étoiles dans le ciel. There are thousands of stars in the sky.
  • Il y a des centaines de touristes sur la plage. There are hundreds of tourists on the beach.

Interestingly, the French use ‘des dizaines de’ where English speakers would say ‘dozens of’:

  • Il y a des dizaines de chevaux dans le pré. There are dozens of horses in the field.
  • Je connais une dizaine de personnes à Paris. I know about a dozen people in Paris.
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