A number is a number, right?
Well, not exactly. While two numbers may look the same, they might be expressed very differently depending on how you use them.
Let’s discuss the different ways to say numbers in Canadian English.
How to say numbers in Canadian English
Large numbers (those that have more than three digits) use commas, not periods. Those commas break the number into smaller parts, and that’s how you’ll say them.
Take the number 139,200.
The correct way to say it is: “one hundred and thirty-nine thousand, two hundred.”
We said everything to the left of the comma (including the word “thousand”), then said everything to the right of the comma (including “hundred”).
But what if we add a “3” to the beginning of the number (3,139,200)?
Same idea: Start with the first digit to the left of the comma, and move right: “three million, one hundred and thirty-nine thousand, two hundred.”
Notice that we didn’t make anything plural. For example, don’t say “three millions.”
*One note about “one hundred” at the beginning of a number: You can say “a hundred” if you prefer. It’s more casual.
Let’s look at the price $1.59.
You could say: “one dollar and fifty-nine cents.”
We read the digit(s) to the left of the decimal, then we said the currency (dollar), then moved on to the cents on the right of the decimal.
If you want to shorten it, say: “a dollar fifty-nine.” (Make sure you say “a dollar” and not “one dollar” here to sound natural.)
We understand the meaning because we know that everything after “a dollar” will mean cents.
In Canadian English, only do this with ONE dollar. Don’t say “eleven dollars fifty-nine.”
To make it even shorter, try: “one fifty-nine.”
Be careful: “One fifty-nine” also means “one hundred and fifty-nine” (159). It’s usually okay, though: If you’re buying a drink and the teller says it costs “one fifty-nine,” it’s obvious your drink doesn’t cost more than 100 dollars.
In Canadian English, we don’t usually speak in 24-hour (military) time, especially in casual conversation. Instead, use “a.m.” for morning hours (00:00 to 11:59), and p.m. for afternoon and evening (12:00 to 23:59).
When you use a.m. and p.m., you shouldn’t also say the time of day because it’s repetitive—choose one or the other. For example, say “I did my workout at 7 a.m.” or “I did my workout at 7 in the morning.” Don’t say “I did my workout at 7 a.m. in the morning.”
We often refer to time in 15-minute intervals, and there are terms for that.
For example, 15 minutes past the hour is “(a) quarter after” or “(a) quarter past,” so 8:15 is “quarter after eight.”
If it’s 30 minutes past the hour, that’s “half past,” so 6:30 would be “half past six.”
Finally, 45 minutes past the hour (or 15 minutes until the next hour) is “(a) quarter to,” meaning that 3:45 is “a quarter to four.”
Even though these numbers look the same as prices, we say them differently.
Let’s look at the number 5.98.
You’d pronounce this “five point nine eight.” We call the period (or decimal point) “point” and the digits after it are all pronounced separately.
If you have a number that begins with zero like 0.51, you can say “zero point five one” or just “point five one.”
And what about decimals with a digit that repeats (for example, 2.444444444444444 . . .)? You can just say “2.4 repeating.”
What do you do if you want to express a decimal as a fraction? If you have “2.5,” for example, you could say “two point five,” but it’s often more natural to say “two and a half.” For example, say: “I ate two and a half cookies.” Make sure that you include “a”: It’s “two and a half”; not “two and half.”
In the example above, we said the noun “cookies” at the end—this is the most common way. It’s unnatural to say: “I ate two cookies and a half.”
The same rule applies to time measurements (minutes, hours, days, months, years): The time typically goes at the end. So, for instance: 3 ¼ (3.25) hours is usually said like this: I’ve been studying for three and a quarter hours.
There’s an exception, though: If you’re talking about the number one, you can say it in two different ways:
- “The test was one and a quarter hours” or
2. “The test was an hour and a quarter.”
Notice that, in option 1 when “hours” is at the end, it’s plural. That’s because adding the extra ¼ technically makes it more than one. In option 2, we used “an hour,” not “one hour”—you could use either one, but “an” is more natural.
To talk about a year, you’ll usually split the number in two. The year 1981, for example, is split 19/81, and you’d say “nineteen eighty-one.”
If the year ends in a double zero, say “hundred” at the end. For example, 1700 is pronounced “seventeen hundred.”
For a year that contains a zero but not a double zero, say the zero as “oh.” So, the year 1803 would be “eighteen oh-three.” On the same note, 1903 would be “nineteen oh-three.”
However, things are a little different for the years 2000 to 2009. For starters, 2000 is simply “the year two thousand.” Any year after that (up to 2009) is “two-thousand and ____” (e.g., “two thousand and three”) or even “two-thousand _____” (“two thousand three”). We don’t say “twenty oh-three.”
For 2010 and above, the regular rules apply. For example, 2013 is “twenty thirteen.” But it’s also okay to say “two thousand and thirteen” or “two thousand thirteen.”
The numbers game
Don’t worry about making small mistakes—chances are that you’ll still be understood. But to keep improving, use the tips above and you’ll be a pro at the numbers game!