One of the first things you would most likely learn when you start learning Italian are Italian numbers — at least those from one to ten. But what about beyond that? What about Renato Zero, or songs about Ventiquattromila Baci or Centocinquanta Stelle?
This article is here to help you count or use numbers when speaking to someone beyond the “cinque minuti!” you must have heard a thousand times, or mille volte. Let’s take a look at the world of Italian numbers so you’ll never be caught off-guard when asked to count something.
Culturally speaking, you may be familiar with some numbers of the Italian language even if you haven’t covered them in a language class. That’s probably because they are easy to remember, don’t contain any complicated Italian grammar rules and are very, very useful. And don’t worry, there is nothing in this article that’s going to change your mind about that.
Italian numbers are written the same as English ones, for one. And they don’t contain letters or calculations like those pesky Roman numerals do (even though speaking Italian helps with those, as well, since C standing for 100 and M standing for 1000 make more sense when you know the words cento and mille).
Either way, knowing numbers is vitally important for speaking a language and expressing even the simplest things, so let’s get on with counting.
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Italian Numbers: The Basics
First, a little recap:
1. uno – one
2. due – two
3. tre – three
4. quattro – four
5. cinque – five
6. sei – six
7. sette – seven
8. otto – eight
9. nove – nine
10. dieci – ten
20. venti – twenty
30. trenta – thirty
40. quaranta – forty
50. cinquanta – fifty
60. sessanta – sixty
70. settanta – seventy
80. ottanta – eighty
90. novanta – ninety
100. cento – hundred (the form stays the same even if it’s several. 400: quattrocento)
1000. mille – thousand (mila if several thousand, e.g. quattromila)
1 000 000 milione – million (milioni if several milion, e.g. due milioni)
1 000 000 000 miliardo – billion (miliardi if several billion, e.g. settanta miliardi)
When it comes to dates, rules aren’t always the same. For example, you’d say: 1900, novecento, for the period — sort of like you’d say “the nineteen-hundreds” except it’s only nine hundred, because the thousand is just assumed, for some reason. But a specific year, like 1990, say, would be mille|novecento|novanta (one word).
Special Cases With Italian Numbers
But let’s go back a bit and look at the form of single and double digit numbers, for now.
While in English (and German, to name another example) the numbers eleven and twelve divert from the rest of the double digits such as fourteen and twenty-seven in terms of form, in Italian they don’t — but others do, instead.
In Italian, you say undici, dodici, tredici (literally something like one-ten, two-ten, three-ten) and switch at seventeen for some reason, saying diciassette, or ten-seven. From there, this system is followed for all double digit numbers: 23 – ventitré, 76 – settantasei, 94 – novantaquattro.
In English, you switch form once again in the twenties, going from nineteen to twenty-seven. Pretty easy. Similar in Italian, because while in the numbers that start with 1, you adapt the form of dieci, ten, in some way, i.e. undici or diciassette.
From the twenties it’s just the number next to another number, such as ventitré for 23 and quarantacinque for 45 — with one exception: when the second number starts with “o” or “u,” you contract: venti+otto becomes ventotto, trenta+uno: trentuno. This is really only the case for numbers with uno, one, and otto, eight.
See? Easy. Now let’s move on to the kinds of numbers you could come across, because there are a few.
Kinds Of Italian Numbers
The three groups of numbers are called cardinal, nominal and ordinal, or numeri cardinali, nominali, and ordinali in Italian.
Cardinali, or cardinal numbers are the most straightforward, since they are used to number things in pure form, in other words as an answer the question “how many?”:
- Conosci Maria e le sue sette sorelle? (Do you know Maria and her seven sisters?)
Nominal numbers in turn are, as the name suggests, about the number as a thing in itself. This is used for phone numbers, house numbers and the like. The easier way to think of it is that nominal numbers don’t indicate quantity, but are just a row of numbers, like a code.
- Il mio numero di telefono è zero-tre-quattro-sette-undici-trenta-cinquantadue. (My phone number is 0-3-4-7-11-30-52.)
In writing, nominali are always written in numbers, while cardinal numbers are only written in numbers instead of words from a certain size.
Finally, ordinal numbers serve to put things in order, as the name again suggests. You use them when you want to say you came first or second in a race or that it’s your third time at a restaurant.
Quentin Tarantino, the director of Italian heritage, is actually named after an ordinal number, the Latin for “fifth,” quintus. The name in Italian would be Quintino, while his is a French or English variation.
Here are some ordinal numbers in Italian, for reference:
- primo – first
- secondo – second (also used in secondo me as in “in my opinion”)
- terzo – third
- quarto – fourth
- quinto – fifth
- sesto – sixth
- settimo -seventh (close to settimana, or the week)
- ottavo – eight
- nono – ninth
- decimo – tenth
You also use these terms when you’re trying to say things like a third of something, or the fifth of a whole. Fun fact: in Rome, when buying offal at a butcher shop, you’d ask for the quinto quarto, the “fifth quarter.”
This comes from Roman times, where nobility was given the first quarter of the animal, the finest cuts, while the second quarter was reserved for clergy, the third for the bourgeoisie and the last for members of the military. So, regular folk got the quinto quarto, fashioned from the rest.
Italian Maths Terms
While this article is about numbers generally, it can’t hurt to go into some basic terms of maths, matematica, so you know what to do with those numbers, whenever it comes up.
There are four main things you can do with numbers: add them up, subtract them, multiply them or divide them. I’ll briefly get into all of these below. But first, the way you’d or ask someone about the end result of these calculations is quanto fa? (Literally “how much does it make?).
Add it up: the plus sign is più in Italian, while equals is uguale. The final result is called somma (you may remember from words like insomma).
To sum it up, here’s an example:
- Quanto fa dieci più cinque? (How much is ten plus five?)
- Quindici. (Fifteen.)
This minus that: minus is meno in Italian, which literally means “less.” So:
- Cento meno dieci uguale novanta. (One hundred minus ten equals ninety.)
You can call the final sum either differenza or resto, though the first is more fancy, if you will.
Multiplication is written with an x, and said with per. See this example:
- Dieci per dieci uguale cento. (Ten times ten equals one hundred.)
The sum left after multiplication is the prodotto.
Divisions: “divided by” is diviso in Italian. An example:
- Cento diviso due uguale cinquanta. (One hundred divided by two equals fifty.)
In cases like the one above, the final sum of a division is called quoto. When there is a remainder, you call it quoziente, instead.
% or Percento: if you just want to say 20%, you can say venti percento. But if you want to say 20% in a sentence or write it into a text, you have to add an article, like this:
- Il quaranta percento della popolazione. (Forty percent of the population.)
Last but not least, dimensions: while not used very often, a situation may arise where you need to give someone the dimensions of something in Italian. You’d do that by saying the two numbers, separated by a per, or “x” — this is also often used to substitute the word per, or for, in texting. But here, it stands for “by” just like in English:
- Un foglio* da venti per ottanta centimetri. (A sheet [of paper] of twenty by eighty centimeters.)
*as in a sheet of paper, un foglio di carta.
Italian Numbers: Wrapping It Up
So really, numbers in Italian aren’t all that difficult, and the language doesn’t make maths more of a nightmare than it already is.
Now you're familiar with Italian numbers, the trick is to immerse yourself in Italian so you hear the numbers in context. That way, you'll be able to use them effortless yourself when the time comes to count in Italian.