German Numbers Overview
Learning a new language is always interesting, but also very challenging. One of the first challenges that many of us experience is learning to count in our chosen language. I wish I could say it’s always “as easy as one, two, three”, but we language learners know that that is not always the case.
Thankfully, if you’re learning German, you have nothing to fear. German numbers may look a little different from English, but they are actually very similar. Don’t believe me? Well, read on and you’ll see how easy this can be.
We’ll start with a little background information about the German language to help give you a fuller understanding of why German numbers are so similar to their English counterparts. After that, we’ll go over all the numbers that you’ll need to know to help you along the way to German fluency.
German Vs. English
I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but just in case you’re not, German is one of the Germanic languages, just like English! To be more specific, English and German as well as Dutch, are considered West Germanic languages.
This means that these languages have the same roots. Although they’ve clearly evolved into very different sounding languages, you’ll find that many German words sound like their English equivalent. In fact, there are a lot of German words that we use every day without even knowing it!
Words like gas, wind, camera (kamera in German), auto, and motor are all the same in German as in English. You’ll also find words that are spelled very differently but sound similar, such as the word Tochter (pronounced tauhk-ter) which means daughter.
These similarities can make it easier for English speakers to learn German, but they can also make things a bit tricky.
Because German is mostly written with the Latin alphabet and has so many similar words, it can be easy to assign English sounds to the words or letters that we’re seeing.
Don’t do that! Learn the sounds of German before you start memorizing words so that you don’t waste time memorizing incorrect pronunciations. Practicing German numbers is actually a great way to learn some of those sounds!
Remember how I said this would be easy? Well, guess what? You already know your first German number. The German word for zero is 'null', just like in the common phrase, “Null and void.” Feeling more confident now? Good, let's dive in and learn some more numbers!
German Numbers 1-10
Similar to most languages, the German number system is based mainly on the first 10 numbers. They will pop up over and over throughout all the higher numbers, so it is very important to memorize one through ten correctly. I should mention here that it's really important to memorize 1-12, but we'll stick with 1-10 to start with.
Here is a quick reference list:
These may seem difficult to memorize at first, but if you listen closely, you’ll find that many of these numbers bear a striking resemblance to their English counterparts. Consider sieben, acht, and neun, a bit like seven, eight, and nine, wouldn’t you say? Just remember to pronounce them carefully!
As I mentioned, these ten numbers will pop up a lot, so it is very important to memorize them correctly. There are a variety of techniques that you can use to help you. Personally, I like to practice the numbers to music. YouTube is full of fun videos to help with this technique.
Some language learners prefer to create mnemonics such as, “Two children zwei for attention” or “Three boxes of drei cereal”. You can use whatever turn of phrase helps you to remember.
Expert Tip: When practicing your numbers, be sure to change up the order now and then. If you just keep repeating them in order over and over, you could forget which word represents which number. You may even find yourself having to count up to each number to recall which word stands for the number you want to say. You don’t want to have to do that when you’re in the middle of a conversation.
A fun way to practice your numbers out of order is to practice number sequences that you’re already familiar with such as your phone number, postal code, or house number. Practice saying, "Meine Nummer ist..." followed by your phone number and you'll soon sound like a natural.
Practicing the individual numbers out of numerical order will help you to assign the proper meaning to each number so that you'll never have to fumble around for the correct word.
Conjugating Number One
Before we move on to our next set of numbers, I think it is a good idea for us to discuss a little conjugation. Don’t panic! I know that conjugation can seem intimidating, but if you take it one step at a time, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Having to conjugate a number may seem a bit unusual, but we do it in English all the time! We rarely say, “I have one cup.” or “You have one apple.” Instead we say, “I have a cup.” or “You have an apple.” German is very similar.
If you’re a language enthusiast, you’re probably thinking, “These are not conjugations of the word 'one', they’re indefinite articles!” and you would be right. But we often use these words in lieu of using the word 'one' in our everyday conversations. For that reason, I feel it is important to include this information within this article.
When you are counting people or objects, you’ll always say 'eins', the word for the number one. In all other situations you’ll use one of these forms:
Es ist ein schönes Haus (It’s a nice house)
Ich rufe einen Kollegen an (I’m calling a (male) colleague)
Es ist das Auto einer Freundin (It’s the car of a (female) friend)
Das Land gehört einem Unternehmen (The land belongs to a (neutral) company)
Cases are somewhat too complicated for me to cover in this article, but they are a very important part of becoming fluent in German, so be sure to study up!
Numbers 11 to 20 In German
Okay, let’s get back to the numbers. Just like with English, eleven and twelve don’t follow any pattern, but after that the numbers should seem very familiar to anyone who has memorized 1 through 10.
Do you see the pattern? Each of the numbers from 13 to 19 starts with the first four letters of the single-digit followed by 'zehn', or the number ten. Another striking resemblance to English, wouldn’t you say?
Counting By Tens in German
Counting by tens is almost as easy as getting from 10 to 20.
Now that you’re on your way to being a German number pro, you probably picked out the pattern in this bunch as well. Zwanzig (20) and dreiiβig (30) are unique, but after that, you can see that each number starts with the first four letters of the single-digit and ends with ‘zig’.
Now we reach the one thing about German numbers that most English speakers struggle with: the number order. All the numbers between 21 and 99 are said in the reverse from how we would normally say them. Instead of saying ‘eighty-four’, you would say ‘four and eighty’.
I like to think of it as though I’ve gone back in time to when everyone said things like ‘a fortnight’, ‘four score’, and things like that. It makes saying four-and-twenty seem a bit more natural. Here are is another chart to help give you the full picture:
All the numbers between 31 and 99 are just the same. For example, eighty-four would be said vierundachtzig (literally ‘fourandeighty’), seventy-nine would be neunundseibzig (literally ‘nineandseventy’), and so on.
Since the number in the ones’ place is always said first, German children are often taught to write that digit first and then fill in the number in the tens’ place. For example, if you were writing 84, you would write the 4, then fill in the 8. You may want to practice writing your numbers this way to better reinforce how to say your German numbers.
Counting From 100 to 999 In German
Once you’ve mastered the two-digit numbers, three-digit numbers will be as easy as can be, especially since the German word for hundred is ‘hundert’. All you have to do is say how many hundreds you have followed by the word hundert, just like we do in English. So one-hundred would be einhundert, two-hundred would be dreihundert, and so on.
When counting from 1 to 19 in any of the hundreds, you would say the numbers just like you would in English. One-hundred and eight becomes einhundertundacht, seven-hundred and sixteen becomes siebenhundertundsechszehn, and so on.
Once you get past 19, you drop the ‘und’ after hundert and simply say the hundreds followed by the two digit number. Remember, you still say the ones’ place before the tens’ place! Here are a few examples for the sake of clarity:
By now I’m sure you can see why I said it was so important to memorize the lower numbers and the patterns that go with them. Once you’ve memorized those, the larger numbers will come to you very easily.
Counting From 1,000 to 10,000 In German
The German word for ‘thousand’ is: tausend. Much like hundert, tausend sounds almost just like its English counterpart only with a German accent, so it’s super easy to remember.
Numbers in the thousands are said just like we say them in English. One thousand would be said ‘eintausend’, two thousand would be zweitausend, and so on.
Pretty simple, right? Just combine that with the hundreds you just learned and you can say any number you want. For example, 2,245 would be zweitausendzweihundertfünfundvierzig.
I know that’s a lot of letters, but if you break it up into its individual parts, it becomes quite simple.
Zweitausend (two thousand) - zweihundert (two hundred) - fünfundvierzig (five and forty).
Other than the ones’ place coming before the tens’ place, the format is the same as it is in English.
Count From 10,000 to Infinity And Beyond In German
The similarities between the German format and the English format for saying numbers continue on into the higher numbers as well. Just like they do in English, these bigger numbers can become a mouthful, but don’t be intimidated! If you break them down into their smaller components, you’ll be able to say these numbers with ease.
For any number between 10,000 and 999,000, you simply say however many thousands you have followed by the word tausend. Forty thousand would be vierzigtausend, five hundred thousand would be fünfhunderttausend, and so forth.
You’re probably getting tired of hearing this, but I have to remind you just once more: the ones’ place still comes before the tens’ place, even with these large numbers.
Here are a few examples:
For hundreds of thousands, the same rules apply:
Here’s a little test for you, before scrolling any further see if you can figure out what this number is:
Apply all the rules you’ve learned so far and see what you come with!
Let’s break it down into its separate components:
Siebenhundert (seven hundred) - sechsundvierzig (six and forty) tausend (thousand) - vierhundert (four hundred) - dreiundneunzig (three and ninety)
So what do we have? That’s right, 746,493.
Thankfully, you won’t have to write out these long numbers very often, but you may have to say them now and again, so it’s good to practice.
Here are some of the higher denominations you may want to learn as well:
Note that the word ‘billion’ in German actually represents trillion, so be very careful with that one!
All of the rules that you’ve learned so far can be applied to the larger numbers, all the way up to infinity if you choose to count that high. Although at that point, you may just want to bust out your calculator.
German Numbers: Final Thoughts
You now have all the knowledge you need to master German numbers from zero to infinity! That wasn’t too bad, was it?
As language learners, we know that the only way to truly master a new language is to practice. Thankfully, there are lots of tools and techniques that you can use to help you memorize everything you’ve learned here today.
You can put the numbers to music, invent mnemonics, use physical or digital flashcards, or even just write the numbers down and post them around the house. Or, if you like variety, you could use all of these techniques.
Remember, don’t just practice counting from one to ten over and over, mix it up a bit. Practicing your numbers in a random order will help you to assign the proper quantity to each word instead of just remembering a list of words.
Try writing your grocery list with German numbers or saying your phone number in German. Try using German instead of English for all the simple numbers you use throughout the day and you’ll have it down in no time.
Don’t forget the most important element: Proper pronunciation! All the practice in the world won’t help you if you aren’t saying the words correctly from the start. Be sure to listen to native speakers very carefully and try to replicate their pronunciation. There are all kinds of language learning apps and YouTube videos that can help you with this.
I hope this article has given you all the confidence you need to tackle German numbers! Remember that every language learning journey takes time and patience, so be kind to yourself even if you don’t feel like you’re learning fast enough. Keep practicing and you’ll be speaking German before you know it.