If you want to speak German, there is no way around learning German numbers. Knowing how to count in German is a useful skill to navigate the country: it allows you to count money like a local and understand prices, it’ll facilitate ordering things, telling time, doing math in German, or even getting a job. So eins, zwei, drei, don’t put it off any longer: we’ll introduce you to German numbers, show you how to count, and explain the rules for forming numbers in German.
How to count in German
In order to start counting in German, you must first learn a set of unique numbers. Unfortunately, there are more than ten of them, so you can’t use your fingers to keep track. Luckily, there’s just an extra couple–or three, if you count zero. Learn this set by heart and you can already do some basic counting in German. You’ll also need these numbers to form larger ones later on.
Learn German numbers up to 20
After twelve, things get a bit simpler with the German numbers. Just take the word stem for the numbers from the table above and add “zehn” (ten) to form the numbers 13-20: drei + zehn = dreizehn (thirteen). Note that “zwanzig” (twenty) is again a special case, yet the prefix “zw” hints at the root of “zwei” (two).
Count to 100 in German
The multiples of ten are also straightforward in German. Again, use the stem of the word (the first four letters) and add “zig”, for example: fünf + zig = fünfzig (fifty). However, thirty is another exception, just like twenty: it uses an “sz”, like so: drei + zig = dreißig.
To be able to count to “einhundert” (one hundred), you’ll want to fill in the numbers in between. These numbers are formed from right to left, that is from the ones to the tens, connected with “und” (and). For example, 35 is not “dreißig-und-fünf”, but rather “fünfunddreißig” (five-and-thirty = thirtyfive). Once you’ve reached “einhundert” (one hundred), you keep going in the same way: “einhundertundeins” (101), “einhundertundzwei” (102) etc.
How to learn large numbers in German
For counting money, chances are you’ll be fine with numbers up to a hundred, but let’s handle the big bucks, shall we? The pattern continues for one thousand, ten thousand, and one hundred thousand. Note that German uses a dot (“.”) to delimit thousands instead of a comma (“,”), which is used to separate decimals. The English 1,500.50 therefore becomes 1.500,50 in German.
Still not enough? A million is “eine Million” in German, but after that, the language uses the long scale for big numbers, which alternates between the two suffixes -illion and -illiarde.
How to learn ordinal numbers in German
When you want to call out the order of things in German, all you have to remember is that “der/die/das erste” (the first) is different. The rest is similar to English with a suffix and the occasional epenthesis–and exception, like “dritte” (third).
More rules for German numbers
German wouldn’t be German without a few more rules when it comes to numbers. To recap, we’ll also repeat the basic rules for forming German numbers.
- The digits zero to twelve are specific words you’ll just have to learn (refer to the first table).
- From 13 to 19, you form the numbers from the matching unit digits and adding “zehn” for ten: dreizehn, vierzehn etc.
- You form multiples of ten with the suffix “zig” at the end of the multiplier digit. Irregular exceptions are 10, 20, 30, 70: “zehn”, “zwanzig”, “dreißig”, “siebzig” (the latter just uses the stem of “sieben”).
- From 21 to 99, you join tens and units with the word “und” (and), but say the unit before the ten, such as “einunddreißig” (31).
- German uses the long scale for big numbers with a pattern of the suffixes “illion” and illiarde”.
- The unit “eins” (1) loses is final “s” when it’s part of a number: “einhundert”, not “einshundert”–unless it’s the only value after a scale name, as in “einhunderteins” (101).
- If you want to express a year as part of a date, the numbers from 1100 to 1999 are said as tens of hundreds, as in “neunzehnhundertachtzig” (nineteen-hundred-eighty).
- In spelling, you don’t separate “hundert” (100) and “tausend” (1,000) from the other numbers by a space to form a word, as in “hundertzwanzig” (120), not “hundert zwanzig”.
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