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French words chiffre, nombre and numero

Understanding the difference between nombre, chiffre and numéro

by | 6 Jul 2019 | French Language


Nombre, chiffre and numéro are three French words to talk about numbers that can be confusing. Maybe you are not sure which of the three words you should use and when. Let’s clear this up.


Un chiffre is any of the symbols from zero to nine: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. There are also seven Roman numerals: les chiffres romains I, V, X, L, C, D, M.


Un nombre is made of chiffres. For example, 24 is a nombre made of the chiffres 2 and 4. It is used to talk about quantities or values.


Un numéro is the word you need for a number that is part of a series and used to identify things or people. It can be made of chiffres (numbers) or of numbers and letters (like a flight number).


Let’s look at some examples:

  • Mon chiffre préféré est le 8. (My favourite number is 8) → referring to symbol
  • Pense à un chiffre entre 1 and 10. (Think of a number between 1 and 10) → referring to symbol
  • Je dois écrire le montant en chiffres ou en lettres ? (Do I have to write the number in figures or in words?) → referring to the symbols 0 to 9
  • Peux-tu écrire le nombre 250 en chiffres romains ? (Can you write number 250 in Roman numerals?) → large number made of digits
  • Quel est le nombre de pays francophones dans le monde ? (What’s the number of French speaking countries in the world?) → quantity
  • Il y a un grand nombre de personnes qui veulent apprendre le français. (A great number of people want to learn French.) → quantity
  • Quel est ton numéro de téléphone ? (What’s your telephone number?) → series for identification
  • C’est le vol numéro AF2356. (It’s flight number AF2356) → to identify the flight
  • Quel est ton numéro de sécurité sociale ? (What’s your social security number?) → to identify a person
  • Elle a joué le numéro 12. (She played number 12.) → for identification


You can also use: 

  • chiffre in the phrase chiffre d’affaires to talk about a company’s turnover.
  • nombre to quantify: Les participants à cet atelier sont au nombre de 6.
  • numéro to talk about an act in a show, for example a magic act is un numéro de magie, or an act someone is playing to attract people’s attention in the phrase faire son numéro : il a fait son numéro, il est content.


Careful! You also use the word chiffre to talk about a number if it refers to a sum, more precisely to the total result of a calculation. For example:

  • Les chiffres publiés par les autorités sont clairs. (The numbers published by the authorities are clear) → Here, the numbers referred to actually are the result of a calculation
  • Les chiffres sont en baisse, c’est une bonne nouvelle. (Figures show a decline, that is good news) → Here again, we are referring to the total sum, the result of a calculation


Now, if you need to write numbers in words (letters), maybe you want to check how to spell French numbers correctly.


There you are! You now know the difference between chiffre, nombre and numéro. Congratulations! 😉


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