Approximate Numbers

Des centaines d'arbres - approximate French numbers
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Nombres approximatifs

Approximate numbers are very useful for talking about generalities, making estimates, and just flat-out guessing. English only has one approximate number, content to use "about" in front of cardinal numbers any time a guess is required.

In contrast, French has about a dozen approximate numbers, most of them formed by adding the feminine suffix –aine to the cardinal number, some of which undergo a minor spelling change.

Approximate French numbers

8huitune huitaine Usually means "about a week"
10dixune dizainex to z 
12douzeune douzainee droppedA dozen
15quinzeune quinzainee droppedOften means "about two weeks"
20vingtune vingtaine  
30trenteune trentainee dropped 
40quaranteune quarantainee dropped 
50cinquanteune cinquantainee dropped 
60soixanteune soixantainee dropped 
100centune centaine  

The final approximate French number is completely different: un millier, meaning "about a thousand."

 Grammatically, approximate numbers are used like expressions of quantity: they are joined to the nouns they modify with the preposition de.

Par exemple…

une dizaine de livres about 10 books
une trentaine de villes about 30 towns
une centaine d’arbres about a hundred trees
un millier de maisons about a thousand houses

Some approximate numbers can be plural:

des dizaines de livres* dozens of books*
des centaines d’arbres hundreds of trees
des milliers de maisons thousands of houses

 * Technically, dizaines means "tens," but idiomatically, in French we generally say dizaines while in English we say "dozens." However, if you’re using a specific number in front, then douzaine = dozen.

J’ai trois douzaines de stylos. I have three dozen pens.

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More French Numbers

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French approximate numbers

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