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Why Arabic numbers are read backwards

I was looking into this a while ago, because it made no sense to me why Arabic, a language all written right to left, would read numbers left to right.

Just to give you an example, in arabic, when you write I have 37 books, you write the following:

عندي ٣٧ كتب/ 3indii 37 kutub

When looking into this, I found an interesting theory: It's not actually backwards, but we read it backwards in english. In english, we start from the larger number, then work to the smallest, seen in the word thirty seven. However, in a right to left system, you read from the smalllest to largest, which some say is more logical. In arabic, the word for 37 is sab3a wathalaathoun/ سبعة وثلاثون , which directly means 7 and 30. This is actually more common than you think in other languages, with it sometimes being still used today (i.e. 37 in german is siebenunddreißig, or 7 and 30) or in more archaic terms (in english, one can say 7 and 30, however its not normal now, and in finnish, seitsemän neljättä, or 7 to the 4th tenth, which is not used anymore except in older writings)

I do want to mention that this only seems to occur in numbers less than 100. I assume this is because the average person didn't do a lot of math and in your everyday life, it is hardly ever necessary to be that accurate past 100.

Please disagree with me, as the more you do, the more I learn.

September 1, 2019



Hello مرحبا It is not about accuracy above 100 or about order and all. It is the way or the rule we follow to read the numbers. As you said above 100 we start with the hundred and so on 5225 خمسة آلاف و مئتان و خمسة و عشرون Good luck! حظ موفق


For a number like 3,247,436 reading right to left just does not make sense. Reading left to right my brain is going to pick up 3,250,000, which is generally all you really need.


My mother tongue is German. In German, as you mention it above, we we say the numbers under 100 reversed. But its still more complicated. Bigger numbers we begin with the larger numbers, but the last two numbers we reverse them again. This system can be the cause of many mistakes in calculating. My daughter, when she was a little school girl, instisted writing the numbers from right to left (with not the best result in mathematics!)

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