See Numbers

Large numbers: important differences between English and other European languages

Writing large numbers: important differences between English and other European languages

The use of decimal separators in British and American English is different than in other European languages. Notice how in both UK and US English a decimal point, and not a comma, is placed as separator before the cents (the fractional part of the decimal number).

  • EXAMPLE: (English) EUR 999.50
  • AVOID (Dutch): EUR 999,50
  • EXAMPLE: (English) EUR 2.5 million
  • AVOID (Dutch): EUR 2,5 Miljoen
  • EXAMPLE: (English)  €955.99
  • AVOID (Dutch): €955,99

NOTE: you will even need to change your settings in Excel sheets to format numbers that use the decimal separator (English) rather than the comma separator (other European languages).        

Grouping of thousands in large numbers

The UT English Style Guide uses commas for digit grouping of thousands

  • EXAMPLE: 1,000,000
  • AVOID: 1 000 000 (the use of spaces as separators is sometimes used in both British and American English, so expect to observe this a lot in your reading of a variety of English texts)
  • AVOID: 1.000.000 (Dutch, German, French–this use of the decimal point can be confusing to the English reader and will not even be recognised as a number in an Excel sheet set to English)

How much is a billion and a trillion in British English and in American English?

In British English, a billion used to be equivalent to a million million (ie. 1,000,000,000, 000); while in American English, it has always equated to a thousand million (ie. 1,000,000,000).

British English has now adopted the American figure, though, so that a billion equals a thousand million in both varieties of English.

  • EXAMPLE: Billion designates a thousand million ie. 1,000,000,000
  • AVOID: billion = million million
  • AVOID: separating the zeros with spaces or full stops

The same sort of change has taken place with the meaning of trillion. In British English, a trillion used to mean a million million million (ie. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000).

Nowadays, it is generally held to be equivalent to a million million (1,000,000,000,000), as it is in American English.

  • EXAMPLE:  Trillion designates a million million ie. 1,000,000,000,000 in British and American English
  • AVOID: trillion = million million million
  • AVOID: separating the zeros with spaces or full stops

NOTE: the words million, billion and trillion can be combined with figures:

  • EXAMPLE:  3,000 million.

Abbreviating ‘million’ and ‘billion’

The letters m and bn can be used for sums of money to avoid frequent repetitions of million, billion; this applies particularly in tables where space is limited. The abbreviation is preceded by a space

  • EXAMPLE:  €230,000 m; $370,000 bn; £490 bn

Use a combination of a figure and a word for very large round numbers (such as multiple millions/billions etc), or abbreviate it to ‘m’, ‘bn'.

  • EXAMPLE: The population of the earth is now 7 billion people.                         
  • EXAMPLE: The population of the earth is now 7bn people.
  • EXAMPLE: The budget came in at just under €2m.

References

Language Boutique 'Writing Numbers – Periods or Commas?' Retrieved from https://language-boutique.com/lost-in-translation-full-reader/writing-numbers-points-or-commas.html