Millions and Billions

Just thought I'd point something out about the German numbering system. There are (at least) two commonly used numbering systems for large numbers, the long and short scales. In the short scale every new term greater than million is 1,000 times the previous term i.e. million, billion trillion. In the long scale every new term greater than million is 1,000,000 times the previous term.

English uses the short scale, whereas German uses the long scale. Which is why Billion in German, means trillion in English. Britain originally used the long scale but eventually switched to the short scale (or American style) to avoid confusion.

This table sums it up best, and you'll notice the English words in the long scale are incredibly similar to the German.

June 12, 2012


Actually, I learnt (not so long ago, but I guess it was 15 years ago) that a billion was 1,000,000,000,000 and I'm from Australia, but I do understand that now it's commonly accepted here that a billion is 1,000,000,000.

January 22, 2013

The British officially adopted the short system in 1974 but i suspect it was taught for much longer depending on where you were. I can only assume Australia (more or less) followed what Britain was doing on this one. If anyone is interested in it, this video from Numberphile sums it all up:

January 22, 2013

I grew up speaking hebrew and english, both use diffrent systems, and Hebrew is also conflicted amongst itself in this subject, in math we write the number and don't say it.

November 14, 2013

I should ask my Israeli mathematician friends what they would use; I learned Hebrew at school but I never really learned this issue.. I guess there never came up a situation where we needed to talk about billions and trillions.

Wikipedia says something interesting though... it says that in february 2013, the Hebrew Academy officially switched from the long system to the short system, except keeping milliard as the term for billion, so it now goes 10^6 = million 10^9 = milliard 10^12 = trillion mostly to conform with american usage of the word "trillion" in economics

December 3, 2013

yeah, everyone at least at my school is confused, and it only came up once or twice in math class

December 3, 2013

I'm 22 now; I remember when I was little the issue of a billion being 10^9 or 10^12 was a thing, but now it's universally accepted that a billion is 10^9, and I reckon the vast majority of my friends probably have never heard the word milliard before, nor ever knew that a billion could refer to 10^12. (I live in Australia btw)

December 3, 2013

this is very confusing, I don't want to ever have to count in such big numbers in neither German nor English :S

August 16, 2012

If you think about the game 'billiards' as well you'll see the long system too :)

June 15, 2013

A British Billion is arguably still 1,000,000,000,000 in terms of mathematics... but thanks to the US 1,000,000,000 is used as a financial Billion.

November 25, 2013
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.