80? Did you say 80?

70 and 90 aren’t so straightforward either!

80 in French, 70, 90 in Swiss French

Swiss-French, or the French spoken in Switzerland has its own regional flavor. The most obvious one will be counting from 70 to 99.

For review:

70   septante (CH, B) – soixante-dix (F)
71   septante et un – soixante et onze
72   septante-deux – soixante-douze
73   septante-trois – soixante-treize
74   septante-quatre – soixante-quatorze
75   septante-cinq – soixante-quinze
76   septante-six – soixante-seize
77   septante-sept – soixante-dix-sept
78   septante-huit – soixante-dix-huit
79   septante-neuf – soixante-dix-neuf

We begin to agree with the 80s. But…some French-speaking cantons, such as Vaud, Fribourg and Valais will use: huitante, huitante et un, huitante-deux, huitante-trois…

80   quatre-vingts (CH, F, B) – note the “s”, removed from the other 80-something
81   quatre-vingt-un
82   quatre-vingt-deux
83   quatre-vingt-trois
84   quatre-vingt-quatre
85   quatre-vingt-cinq
86   quatre-vingt-six
87   quatre-vingt-sept
88   quatre-vingt-huit
89   quatre-vingt-neuf

Schism in the 90s:

90   nonante (CH, B)- quatre-vingt-dix (F)
91   nonante et un – quatre-vingt-onze
92   nonante-deux – quatre-vingt-douze
93   nonante-trois – quatre-vingt-treize
94   nonante-quatre – quatre-vingt-quatorze
95   nonante-cinq – quatre-vingt-quinze
96   nonante-six – quatre-vingt-seize
97   nonante-sept – quatre-vingt-dix-sept
98   nonante-huit – quatre-vingt-dix-huit
99   nonante-neuf – quatre-vingt-dix-neuf

Another important point is when to add the “s” to quatre-vingts:

  • When 80 stands alone or ends the number, add the “s”: quatre-vingts, trois cents quatre-vingts
  • When 80 is followed by a number, remove the “s”: quatre-vingt-cinq, or quatre-vingt mille hommes
  • When 80 follows a noun (usually seen for a rank, listing, etc.), remove the “s”: page quatre-vingt because it is understood that it is the 80th page, la quatre-vingtième page

Awful exceptions include: au moins quatre-vingts ans (at least 80 years old) because 80 is not followed by a number (ex., 83), and this isn’t a list, it refers to an age/time period; quatre-vingt millions because millions isn’t a cardinal number, it is a noun…les années quatre-vingt, because a decade is a ranking of years. Sounds confusing? I agree, especially with million vs quatre-vingts grammes (see this exercise). In doubt, write 80, or with 20, une vingtaine (about twenty).

I personally have found one situation where I prefer French-French numbers, and that is for “93”, a wonderful novel by Victor Hugo on the French Revolution. The title sounds great as Quatre-vingt treize and rather weak as nonante-trois.

As a kid, my book had a similar cover as this one below and I was happily saying how I’d read Nonante-trois by Victor Hugo. I was in the US at the time, so there wasn’t much of a crowd there to say, “Actually…this amazing book is called Quatre-vingt-treize“. To illustrate how deeply ingrained language habits are, let me add that the few French people I spoke to about the book did not make the connection: puzzled, they replied that they were not familiar with “Nonante-trois” by Victor Hugo

80 in French, 70, 90 in Swiss French

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