At first glance the French have a somewhat unusual counting system which seems normal up until the number sixty-nine (soixante-neuf). Then things get a little “Abraham Lincoln”. But I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment.
But first lets us take a look at the French counting system.
One = un (masculine) or une (feminine). The number one is the only number to really have a gender. Also, the first day of the month is the “premier”.
Two = deux
Three = trois
Four = quatre
Five = cinq
Six = six (exactly the same)
Sept = seven
Eight = huit
Nine = neuf
Ten = dix
Eleven = onze
Twelve = douze (kind of sounds like “dozen”)
Thirteen = Treize (This is the beginning of the Teens (tens) in English. The dix numbers don’t start until 17 in French).
Fourteen = quatorze
Fifteen = quinze
Sixteen = seize
Seventeen = dix-sept (This is the start of the regular patter of the name of the number from the tens followed by the name of the number of the ones).
Eighteen = dix-huit
Nineteen = dix-neuf
Twenty = vingt
Twenty-one = Vingt-et-un. (The “et” is only used in two digit numbers ending in “one” starting with 21 and ending with 61.)
Twenty-two = Vingt-deux (There is a dash between the numbers linking them. This is the pattern for the rest of the numbers up until 69)
Thirty = trente
Fourty = quatrante
Fifty = cinquante
Sixty = soixante
Sixty nine = soixante-neuf. (Now a new pattern begins.)
Seventy = soixante-dix ( And so it starts. 70 is 60+10 Soixante-dix. Learning French numbers from this point on will help you with your mathematics skills.)
Seventy one = Soixante-et-onze 60 and 11.
Seventy two = Soixznte-douze (Just add the teen numbers to the end of Soixznte. This pattern continues until 80)
Eighty = quatre-vingt (four twenties) 4 x 20.
Eighty one = quatre-vingt-un. (four twenties one)
Ninety = quatre-vingt-dix (four twenties ten.) It really means 4 X 20 + 10
One hundred = cent
One hundred and one = cent-un
The Honest Abe Lincoln French Counting System
I don’t know if Abe Lincoln spoke French but for some reason he counted like a Frenchman. Looking at the first four words in Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address the opening line is one of his most quoted and least understood lines in history.
(What’s a score anyway?)
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”
The word “score” has gone out of fashion in America. “Score” means “twenty”.
“Score” was once quite common in English.
“…the Sheriff of Nottingham did cow bold Robin Hood and seven score as fair archers as are in all merry England?”
“The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”
Published in 1883
By Howard Pyle
What President Lincoln was really saying in his Gettysburg address was,
‘87 years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…’
In French the number 87 is «quatre-vingts-sept», which translates as four-twenties-seven or as Lincoln put it, “four score and seven”.
Maybe French numbers after 70 aren’t that far-fetched. For after all they are using the same twenty based counting system that President Lincoln famously used.