Expressing large numbers: hundreds, thousands, millions and billions

The way Spanish express "a hundred [things]", "a thousand [things]", "a million [things]" or "a billion [things]"  is slightly different to how this is expressed in English.

Let's see some examples:

One hundred/one thousand

Cien pájaros.A hundred birds.

Cien sillas.A hundred chairs.

Mil pájaros.A thousand birds.

Mil sillas.A thousand chairs.
 

Look at how the words "cien" and "mil" do not change when applied to masculine and feminine nouns: they are invariable. Also, notice how in Spanish there is no indefinite article "un" which is present in English. This is a very common mistake.

It'd be incorrect to say:

  • un cien pájaros
  • un mil sillas

One million/one billion

Un millón de hombres.A million men.

Un millón de mujeres.A million women.

Un billón de hombres.A trillion men.

Un billón de mujeres.A trillion women.

Here, the words "millón" and "billón" don't change either when referring to masculine or feminine nouns, they too are invariable. However, we need:

  • "un" before the number
  • "de" before the noun

A common mistake for English speakers is to omit the "de" as it is not required in English. This is incorrect:

  • Un millón hombres
  • Un billón mujeres

  

Hundreds/Thousands/Millions/Billions of [noun]

Cientos de barcos salieron a pescar.Hundreds of boats went out to fish.

Cientos de personas salieron a la calle para celebrar.Hundreds of people went outside to celebrate.

Despidieron a miles de empleados.They fired thousands of employees.

La empresa ha tenido miles de quejas.The company had thousands of complaints.

Ese año facturamos billones de euros.That year we made trillions of euros.

Ese año facturamos billones de libras.That year we made trillions of pounds.

As you can see, there is only one form for both masculine and feminine plural.

Remember:

  • cientos de [plural noun] → hundreds of [plural noun]
  • miles de [plural noun] → thousands of [plural noun]
  • millones de [plural noun] → millions of [plural noun]
  • billones de [plural noun] → trillions of [plural noun]

See also Using numbers + nouns

Important: about English billion and Spanish billón  

In Spanish, "un billón" refers to "un millón de millones" (a million million) while "a billion" in modern English refers to "a thousand million".

Note that previously in the UK a billion was "a million million" (just like  "un billón" in Spanish). Modern English texts do not use this system (the UK government adopted the newer system in 1974) and so it is not included in the table below. 

Number* Spanish Modern English

1,000

(3 zeros)

mil a thousand

1,000,000

(6 zeros)

un millón a million

1,000,000,000

(9 zeros)

mil millones (un millardo)** a billion (a thousand million) 

1,000,000,000,000 

(12 zeros)

un billón (un millón de millones)

a trillion

* In Spanish, the thousand separator is usually represented by a full stop/period, e.g. 1,000,000 = 1.000.000

** mil millones is used far more frequently that un millardo 

 

 

Want to make sure your Spanish sounds confident? We’ll map your knowledge and give you free lessons to focus on your gaps and mistakes. Start your Braimap today »

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Un billón de hombres.A trillion men.
Un millón de mujeres.A million women.
Ese año facturamos billones de libras.That year we made trillions of pounds.
Cien pájaros.A hundred birds.
Despidieron a miles de empleados.They fired thousands of employees.
Un millón de hombres.A million men.
Ese año facturamos billones de euros.That year we made trillions of euros.
La empresa ha tenido miles de quejas.The company had thousands of complaints.
Mil sillas.A thousand chairs.
Un billón de hombres.A trillion men.
Cientos de barcos salieron a pescar.Hundreds of boats went out to fish.
Mil pájaros.A thousand birds.
Un billón de mujeres.A trillion women.
Cientos de personas salieron a la calle para celebrar.Hundreds of people went outside to celebrate.
Cien sillas.A hundred chairs.
How has your day been?