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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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David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on his site,, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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