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What’s the difference between nombre and chiffre in French?

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If you’re asking yourself this, you’ve already come to realize there’s a difference in meaning here. That’s half the battle! The first thing to note is that in most situations, it’s super easy to tell when to use which.

In certain cases, however, you might be tempted to use nombre even if the context calls for chiffre. So let’s see the difference:

What’s nombre (noun)?

This one’s easy: it simply means “number” in French.

  • un nombre pair = an even number
  • un nombre impair = an odd number
  • un nombre entier = a whole number
  • sans nombre = countless (literally: “without number”)

And what’s chiffre (noun)?

In most contexts, you’ll translate this to mean “figure”.

  • un nombre de / à quatre chiffres = a four-figure number (Note: both un nombre de quatre chiffres and un nombre à quatre chiffres are fine to use.)
  • en chiffres ronds = in round figures

However, chiffre is also used to mean “numerals”:

  • chiffres arabes = Arabic numerals
  • chiffres romains = Roman numerals

It’s a common mistake to mix up “number” and “figure” in English (even native speakers do that from time to time), and the same is true for these two French words.

When in doubt, ask yourself whether you mean to say a number (such as 0, 54, 149, etc.), or you mean a figure – that is, a sum or a character that serves to represent a number.

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