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How do you say 1.000.001 in French and actually get understood?

If you say un million un, people understand 1.100.000 most of the time, other simple possibilities like un million et un seem strange. The same strange things happen until un million mille...

And what about the name of the rank? The 1.000.000th is called le millionième, what is the name of the next ones?

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    Cleared comments: Please avoid answering questions in comments. Instead, write your own answer. Use comments to suggest improvements or to request clarification about the question. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 21 '15 at 10:11
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In most use cases, there would be no ambiguity. The context will generally rule out the strictly correct option if you talk about prices or actual quantities :

Cette maison coûte un million deux.

Cannot mean but €1.2M in France, same with :

Il y a trois million huit habitants dans cette ville (= 3.8M inhabitants).

Un million un sounds a little odd, un million cent is more common to mean 1.1M.

Same for Un million dix to Un million quatre-vingt-dix neuf, they might be too rarely used, if ever, to deserve being mentioned.

When you really want to tell 1 000 001, you certainly can use un million et un but with something to qualify last "one":

Un million et un habitant.

Un million et deux Euros.

Un million et quatre unités.

One can also say the unambiguous :

Pile (ou exactement) un million plus un habitant.

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    +1 for properly describing the role of context and acknowledging the fact that things like “un million deux” is very common in French. But the question is specifically about saying 1000001, which is more difficult. – Relaxed Sep 21 '15 at 7:12
  • OK, never mind, your edit provided a great suggestion! – Relaxed Sep 21 '15 at 7:13
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    @RiguefortUltraquaillette «mille-et-une» est effectivement aussi un synonyme de « mille » ou « un millier » lorsqu'il est utilisé dans le sens approximatif « un très grand nombre ». Il n'existe pas de formule équivalente « un million et un » mais il est vrai que « un million » partage la particularité avec milliard d'être à la fois un numéral exact (comme douze, cent, mille) et un nom collectif (comme douzaine, centaine, millier). – jlliagre Sep 21 '15 at 12:57
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    @RiguefortUltraquaillette Mille et une nuits se réfère à la pensée orientale : mille peut se lire comme une pile de trois niveaux de 'vide (énergétique)' [le zéro, d'origine indienne indique l'absence d'objet, mais n'est pas le symbole du néant, il est au moins la place d'un objet potentiel] avec le un tout en haut, au-dessus (l'unicité, le premier sans second), référençant l'univers en un Tout Absolu, c'est un symbole de complétude ; dire mille ET une nuit veut dire que l'on va symboliquement au-delà, ce n'est pas un décompte, mais le franchissement d'une limite vers un autre univers. – cl-r Sep 21 '15 at 13:54
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    For some reason, I wonder if the examples featuring unit nouns really need the et. I think part of the discussion/disagreements might come from the opacity of un million un where million is perceived as a unit noun (in the absence of a following unit)... – GAM PUB Sep 21 '15 at 16:45
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The correct way to say 1 000 001 in French is indeed "un million un". I do hear sometimes "un million un" for 1 100 000. It may come from "1.1 millions". It is incorrect and as we say in French it is "un abus de langage".

To be sure people understand what I meant, I would say "un million-et-un".

1 000 000 : "millionième", 1 000 001 : "million-et-unième"

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    I would spell 1 100 000 as "un virgule un million" ( 1,1 x 1 000 000 ). – Archemar Sep 20 '15 at 15:39
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    @GAMPUB - Un million cent ⇒ 1 000 100 -- Pour un classement : 1.000.002th ⇒ « La million-et-deuxième position. » – cl-r Sep 20 '15 at 17:07
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    -1 It depends a bit on the context but “Un million un” mostly mean 1100000. You can call it an abus all you want, it's not a helpful way to describe the current state of the French language. And none of this actually addresses the question (which is about being understood in the real world rather than pontificating on the way things should be), it just wishes it away. – Relaxed Sep 20 '15 at 20:01
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    @Relaxed: The way numbers are written or spoken must obey to a strict rule because of their function in social interaction. Just imagine all the errors that could occur (finance, physics, trade, etc... where oral communication is/must be used). Saying un million un for 1 100 000 is indeed a misuse of the proper way to say numbers that cannot be opposed to whatever state of the language. I am not a prescriptivist except on this particular point of the language where errors in communication could be fatal. – Laure Sep 21 '15 at 7:15
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    @Laure It is difficult to make sense of your argument as these uses arise precisely in the said contexts. Have you never heard prices for homes or appartments stated in this way by professionals? – GAM PUB Sep 21 '15 at 16:42
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Value approximation

After carefully considering a very insightful answer, I suggest the following:

un million un exactement. [I don't grant specific importance to the adverb being postponed]

The reason is that I1 equate the understanding of "un million un" as 1 100 000 to a limited context: the approximation, and mostly if not entirely about monetary value. Put differently, I see this as a setup where the unit is pinned to the millions2, with 1(me) up to 3(OP, linked A.) significant digits following. The focus is on a final upcoming component to complete the string and get an idea of the value. If it's one, it's one hundred ; if it's one hundred, it's also one hundred; and those are all thousands3. This sort of usage cannot yield a more precise number using its system (1 200 234 ; un million deux[-cents] [pause/et?] deux-cent-trente-quatre ?? ; this is similar to the string decomposing required to qualify and read big numbers, but without following through with placing mille anywhere). The precision level stemming from this monetary value context can be dispelled imho using a precision bearing adverb (exactement), as introduced in the answer I alluded to, but without resorting to the conjunction.

The following are considerations about a solution (un million et un) appearing in every other answer and which showcase the underlying logic prompting this conclusion (and subsidiarily my belief that using the conjunction is not standard and is reminiscent of artifacts of old).


The conjunction "et" (un million et un)

Using the conjunction et with integer numbers to escape the shortcomings of the proposed usage is not mainstream. Moreover, it ignores the classic grammar rule from Antoine Oudin's Grammaire françoise (1632) which states that using the conjunction is for speaking convenience and shouldn't be used within numbers except those under 100 for some of the tens of starting with one (vingt-et-un, not vingt-et-deux; see also, modern: 1, 2, 3; number to text: 1, 2) :

enter image description here

Le bon usage (Grevisse et Goosse, ed. Duculot, §593, note H) explains this was mostly followed in the 18th even though there was still uncertainty later on, admittedly even in the 20th. It quotes for instance the 1846 Bescherelle grammar which allowed for "vingt-un", "trente-un" (up to 60); in that case the uncertainty was not so much about adding extra conjunctions, but rather about not using them at all in cases which are mostly completely settled today. There used to be a time when :

M. et C. et quatre vinz et XVII. anz après l'incarnation (Villehardouin)

...was quite usual, but that Latin influence has come and gone and numbers are no longer constructed like so. The addition (as opposed to multiplying) process of number generation mostly involves the use of the dash (trait d'union), not that of the conjunction; it is not an arithmetic looking process like the old Latin inspired forms. The conjunction and the dash are also used to establish subtle differences between a number and an arithmetic operation post-Reform; fractions and such won't be discussed further.

The indetermination

Which is not to say that you can never have the conjunction with numbers above 100. Les mille et une nuits, Les mille et un jours, are titles of literary work, whereas mille et trois has specific connotations related to the don Juan in literature. Otherwise you can also have "mille et un" and "cent et un" in some generic indeterminate way to express a large number as opposed to any accurate one. Of course there are further exceptions, including to this indeterminate nature itself : "Mille et un francs" (Pagnol)4. But in my opinion, the field is crowded and this creates potential interference with sequences containing et un (especially) or et trois as opposed to the others, and therefore is not uniform or predictable. If someone tells me "un million et une... idées", I perceive it as a variation on mille et une, not "un million une".


1. I'll provide my own usage experience (from Québec ; for France see other answers) for context. I can hear "un million deux" as 1 200 000 in context no problem. I cannot hear "un million deux cents" to mean 1 200 000 (I understand 1 000 200) without hearing "mille" along. I can hear "à peu près/dans les/autour de un million deux" (+- 1 200 000); I can hear "entre un million deux et un million trois" to be somewhere in between 1 200 000 and 1 300 000 or close to 1 250 000, but not a variation which wouldn't repeat "millions" ("entre un million deux et trois"). Finally none of these trump "un point deux millions" for me (virgule instead of point works too, is just less usual to me) ; this is the only way I can hear numbers applied to something else than money, like inhabitants (I don't hear un million deux habitants as anything but 1 000 002). I would find a statement that most of the time people understand, irrespective of context, "un million un" as 1 100 000, surprising, and would want to know more about that group of speakers.

2. This "pinning" to a unit reminds me of the leeway we have with certain elements in a context such as a table or statistical documents; for instance using the currency sign and expressing values as millions or milliers; I acknowledge we're talking about the spoken language in this Q but such tables are often about approximations with a set number of significant digits.

3. It's useful to keep in mind that mille is not like millier and million: it is ever so rarely a substantive, except for the distance unit and few other exceptions (des milles de boîtes à remplir, old/rare/regional; other example). Mille is not a substantive in a number; and there is no plural agreement. There are intricate implications when mixing numbers and words to devise written words; for instance you would not write: 2 millions 300 mille dollars. I want to stress here that this has nothing to do with grammar; it is about "display logic", typography and acknowledgement of the nature of the numeric adjective "mille".

4. The paragraph, up to this point, is based on the LBU(§593). Here's the context for the Pagnol quote: "Je fis aussitôt l'addition : 780 et 210, cela faisait 990 francs. Je pensais que j'avais sept francs dans ma tirelire, et je savais, malgré les cachotteries de Paul, qu'il possédait au moins quatre francs. Cela faisait donc mille et un francs." (Marcel Pagnol, Le château de ma mère, )

  • Recherches approfondies et intuitions solides, merci. – cl-r Sep 22 '15 at 9:05
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    I completely agree with millions being treated as a unit noun and the trailing numbers a sort of further estimate. I do not believe however that large number behave this way in general but only the numbers stuck between a million (or a milliard) and the following *mille. I never had any trouble at all with numbers like 1.234.567. – GAM PUB Sep 23 '15 at 6:14
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    I suggested to add “exactement” to the other answer, but I'm afraid that if you put the “exactement” after saying the number, the warning comes too late. People could think that the value which they rightfully understood as 1 100 000 in an "approximative" context is surprisingly the actual value. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 24 '15 at 11:40
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    “Un point deux millions” is clearly not French (at least in France). “Un virgule deux millions” is, but it's generally used in formal speech, not in casual conversation. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 24 '15 at 11:43
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    The million “unit” is not only used for money. I've heard something like “Ils sont combien à Toulouse ? — À peu près 1 millions 2” very often. And I don't mind using it either. Though you're right that a break is sometimes needed if you want to precise the actual unit later. – Stéphane Gimenez Sep 24 '15 at 11:53
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If you are in a context in which you only mentioned big round numbers like 500000 or 3000000 and you suddenly need to read out 1000001, I'm afraid you cannot avoid some very cumbersome description like:

  • Un million et un, juste un, pas cent mille
  • Un million un, je veux dire un zéro zéro zéro … et un

On other hand, if you are reading a series, with detailed numbers like 154005, 3650084, etc. then “un million un” should be understood properly I think.

Un million-et-un” is a bit odd but not unbearably so. If you make a short pause between “un million” and “et un” (and perhaps a brief hand gesture to explain “at the end”!), it could be effective.

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After researching this question outside our community, I have come to a strange realization:

  • million is a unit name and is interpreted as such when isolated

    • un million un works like un kilo deux (1.2kg) or deux mètres dix (2.10m)
    • in French, subunits used this way are limited to thousandths, so the interference runs from 1 to 999
    • but when actually counting an explicit unit as in un million un chats it is understood as 1,000,001.
  • as million is a noun, something else occurs at the number preceding the one in my original question.

    • we can say in French 999 999 chats as well as 1 000 001 chats but not 1 000 000 chats... the latter as to be said 1 000 000 de chats, the same way we have to say un kilo de carottes
  • un cent, mille, ... sont des adjectifs numéraux cardinaux, que l'on peut employer devant d'autres mots, on peut donc dire un chat, cent chats, etc. Mais pas million qui est un nom commun (comme milliard), on dit donc un million de chats, comme un kilo de carottes. le cas un million (et) un est effectivement subtil. – guillaume girod-vitouchkina Dec 29 '15 at 8:30
  • @guillaumegirod-vitouchkina ??? – GAM PUB Dec 29 '15 at 10:02
  • "Un million un chats" me semble incorrect (peut-être acceptable sous forme orale). On dit "un million et un chats". – guillaume girod-vitouchkina Dec 29 '15 at 10:09
  • @guillaumegirod-vitouchkina Vous avez lu la discussion ? – GAM PUB Jan 1 '16 at 17:28

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