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Fractions & decimals in English

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Numbers - 3. Fractions, decimals

 Numbers 3 : fractions and decimals

Index : Numbers - cardinals Numbers - ordinals Fractions and decimals

1. Fractions

Fractions, which express quantities less than one, should not cause many problems for students of English, once they have understood how they are formed.

Except for the most common fractions, ¼  ½ and ¾,  fractions are made up of a cardinal number (one, two, three etc.) followed by an ordinal , usually in the plural (thirds, fifths, sixths etc.)

Here are the most common fractions in English, and a few others as random examples.

1/4 a quarter (occasionally a fourth) 3/16 three sixteenths
1/2 a half 1/32 one thirty-second
3/4 three quarters 7/9 seven ninths
1/3 a third 1/100 a hundredth or one hundredth
2/3 two thirds 12/100 twelve hundredths
3/8 three eighths 21/1000 twenty-one thousandths

 Fractions are used in all styles of language, including scientific and technical English. Don't forget that North Americans, notably people in the USA, have not fully adopted the decimal system like most of the rest of the world, and still use non-metric measurements such as feet and inches.... and fractions of these..

Half a pint of beer
A quarter of a second
Three quarters of a mile
Three fifths of the contents of the bottle.
A thickness of one thirty-second of an inch.
A tolerance of six thousandths of a millimetre

Using decimals in English

Decimals are regularly used in everyday English, but more specifically in scientific and technical English, in order to indicate with precision quantities that are not a complete number.
They are not difficult to use..
After the decimal point figures are expressed digit by digit. The words hundred  and thousand are never used after the decimal point.
Note that the decimal point is precisely that; a point, never a comma. 1
Before a decimal point, for a quantity less than 1, one normally begins (British English) nought point ... or (all forms of English) zero point ....
But after the decimal point, the 0 is expressed as "oh" or "nought" or "zero"
0.25 point two five or
nought point two five, or
zero point two five
8.56 eight point five six

0.5 point five, or nought point five, or zero point five 12.15 twelve point one five
0.75 point seven five, or nought point seven five or zero point seven five 17.806 seventeen point eight oh six
0.333 point three three three, or nought point three three three, or zero point three three three 384.63 three hundred and eighty-four point six three
0.6405 nought point six four oh five or
zero point six four zero five
40.004 Forty point  oh oh four ou Forty point nought nought four, ou Forty point zero zero four
1.5 one point five 117.87659 one hundred and seventeen point eight seven six five nine
Important; except on very rare occasions, figures with decimals ane never written out in words, but always written in figures.  On this page, examples are expressed words as a representation of the way they are expressed in spoken English.
It was 0.2445 mm thick
Oral; It was nought point two four four five millimetres thick.
Written; The long side measures 6.652 in.
Oral; The long side measures six point six five two inches.
Written; The solar vehicle reached a record speed of 131.68 m.p.h.
Oral; The solar vehicle reached a record speed of  a hundred and thirty-one point six eight miles an hour (or miles per hour).

Note:  the above rules for decimals do not apply to expressing sums of money. This is treated separately 

Translating numbers: 
The rules are simple;

  • quantities that are written in words in the original language should be rendered as words in the target language
  • quantities that are written in figures in the original language should be rendered as figures in the target language
Index : Numbers - cardinals Numbers - ordinals Fractions and decimals

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1. The English-speaking countries of the world, along with the major Asian economies, use a decimal point. Most parts of Europe and south America use a decimal comma. This means that people using decimals in an international or multilingual context must be quite clear of the system they are using. Otherwise figures like 123.456  or 123,456 will mean quite different things to different people. Normally, context will be sufficient to clarify what is being meant; but not always. In computing, computers may well not be able to make a contextual judgement.

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Les fractions et décimaux


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