billion / a thousand milllions

Discussion in 'English Only' started by gaer, Apr 28, 2005.

  1. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    British : a thousand milllions

    This is from Merriam-Webster. What I find particularly curious is that it is not on the Cambridge site. And I've never seen it used.

    Is that actually used in the UK instead of billion? I was sure the answer was "no", but I've learned not to speak too quickly.


    Moderator note.
    The topic of "what is a billion?" raises a lot of discussion among those who do not routinely use the term.
    This is a very long thread and contains a great deal of opinion.
    Below I have quoted some of the posts that contain straightforward and robust statements about the UK use of billion.
    You are welcome to read the rest of the thread and to add to the discussion if you wish.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2009
  2. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Canada - English
  3. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Markus, 10 to the 9th power is 1 plus 9 zeros. That's a billion here. So you are saying that in the UK, billion is 12 zeros? And a millard, in the UK, is the same as a billion here? Hmm…


    Oops. I didn't read the second link. But "milliard", meaning 1000 million, is marked as obsolete elsehwere. My confusing is that in German it is the standard word for "billion" (die Milliarde)…

  4. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Canada - English
    Yep, that's exactly right. At least that's how it used to be, I don't know how much they've adopted the American system. That must be really confusing for them I imagine, if they're in transition. Any time someone says a billion... oh, do you mean American billion or a billion?
  5. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    We crossed. I was editing, you were posting. It would not be confusing for me if one or the other is now standard, because I am familiar with both words. But I had not seen milliard in English before, just in other languages. Maybe someone from the UK will pop in and tell us what is in use NOW. :)

    My suspicion was aroused when when the Cambridge site, which speciailizes in UK English, said that "it did not recognize the word". That usually means it's obsolete. So we have a little mystery here. :)

  6. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    noone, and i mean noone knows what a milliard is (i base this on the fact that i am studying maths at degree level and i have never ever seem the term mentioned any where):) i only know the word becacuse its the same thing in french ;) and the american system of counting has taken over i imagine that few brits even know that we had a different counting system ;)
  7. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Benjy, that's what I thought, but I promised the people in the German forum I would check it out.

    As I said, if a word is shown not to be part of the Cambridge online database, it's a pretty good indication that the word is not in use.

    I keep warning people to beware of dictionary sites. The information about the EXISTENCE of a word often gives no info about current usage. :)

  8. rayb Senior Member

    Chile - Spanish
    In Spanish, like in French, "millardo" = 1000 millions and "billón" = 1000000 millions.
    This is a mess in accounting and commercial contracts. Probably the only solution is to use also "milliard" in English.
  9. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Canada - English
    This is a good warning, though it's not why I thought the term was still in use. I've actually been told this 'fact' by several different people over the years. I think that our cultures love to believe crazy things about other cultures, and having a different definition for a billion is about as crazy as it gets. ;) Anyway, thanks for the clarification Benjy.

  10. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    A solution has to be possible. English is not going to change. :)

    But it certainly is confusing!

  11. rayb Senior Member

    Chile - Spanish
    For sure, business has to and will find a solution. Effectively, in a contrc ir has to be clear if 1 billion means 1 milliard or 1000 milliards. International standards are for that. By the way, we all speak about kilo, mega, tera and so on.
  12. Fezman

    Fezman Member

    Ireland, English
    Now we know why there are so many billionaires in america, its 1000 times easier...!!!!
    p.s.- its the same in ireland 1,000,000,000,000 = 1 billion!!
  13. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    This is true, the American system is taking over here, but it is sufficiently in flux for no one to be sure. Obviously if you are really using numbers this big it is EXTREMELY important to be sure which you are talking about. I work in the European headquarters of an American company and when we have occasion to talk about numbers this large we never use the word "billion" alone everyone says "Billion as in a thousand million" or "a million million". If I had a communication come from the US using the word billion I would assume it meant a thousand million (and I think it always would), but if it was vital I knew for sure I would check. I don't think I'd have a job for long if I got it wrong:eek:
  14. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Because there is such a resistance to metrics in the US, we tend to have more problems with these terms, I think.

    Perhaps billion has already become common in the UK (and elsewhere) for the reason you mentioned—standardization. The problem is that it's different in other languages. I suppose if you want to be absolutely certain, the only way is to write out the number with the appropriate number of zeros. :)

  15. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I'd probably just say, "How many zeros are we talking about?" But I'd also be fired the first day. ;)

  16. stefi_na New Member

    Bourgas, Bulgaria
    Bulgaria - Bulgarian/English/French/German
    in Bulgarian the word for 1000 millions also sounds like "milliard", but I've never heard it in English... "billion" in Bulgarian means 1 000 000 000 000 (I didn't know that until now :)) and I also learned that 1(followed by a hundred zeroes) is called a googol... here's some interesting info I found:
  17. timebomb

    timebomb Senior Member

    Singapore, English
    A couple of years ago, a friend told me that although a million is the same everywhere, it isn't so with a billion. I didn't believe him then when he said that a billion in Great Britain is a million million whereas everywhere else, it's a thousand million. I made a bet with him and lost some money. :( I wonder if it's still true today, that a billion in GB is a thousand times more than a billion elsewhere.
  18. Sophie Elizabeth Senior Member

    UK, English
    Absolutely true!
  19. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Aren't gallons bigger too? I seem to remember when I was back in highschool, if you bought a gallon of gas in Canada it was way more expensive, because "Imperial gallons" had 5 quarts in them instead of 4?

    Whenever I'm south of the "upper tier" of the "lower 48" I can't get people to believe this. Am I hallucinating again? Gas fumes maybe?

    Or might fifths of a gallon of a different sort altogether be at fault?
  20. Diabolik

    Diabolik Member

    Italy (Italian)
    Hi everyvody.

    I think I don't understand:
    if I write what and English would read? and an American? thank you!

  21. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  22. timebomb

    timebomb Senior Member

    Singapore, English
    I can't speak for the English but over here in Singapore, your number would be read as "one". It isn't necessary though to put so many decimal points behind the first number. One would be sufficient.

    What did you say? You mean, they're commas? :D Very well then, I can't speak for the English again but I think they will read it as "a thousand million" :D

    Just know that if you're a billionaire, there's no better place to be one than in Great Britain ;)
  23. PeterR New Member

    Scottish Highlands
    English - British
    In Britain a billion used to be a million million. However nowadays even the BBC routinely uses it to mean a thousand million, just like Americans do. I do not know whether other media all follow the same example. I'd also guess that a billion is not something the average person in the street talks about every day, certainly not with technical precision as to the exact size of this large number.
  24. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member

    What does the "bn" stand for? Thanks a lot.
  25. whatonearth Senior Member

    UK, English
    Billion (£1,600,000,000,000) :)
  26. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member


  27. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)

    whatonearth has given you the traditional British billion version.

    In financial circles, the British have adopted the US billion, so £1.6bn means £1,600,000,000
  28. whatonearth Senior Member

    UK, English
    Quite correct, panjandrum, my apologies
  29. whatonearth Senior Member

    UK, English
    No, sorry for the confusion, £1.6 million would be £1,600,000. The old British billion was one with twelve noughts (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000) but in financial circles (influenced by the US) one billion has become one with nine noughts (i.e. 1,000,000,000) - hope that's cleared up!
  30. deslenguada

    deslenguada Senior Member

    I keep saying "How weird!" It can get pretty confusing then.
    For me as a Spanish speaker this ---> 1,000,000,000 is "one thousand millions"
    would you say it like that?

    and this ---> 1,000,000,000,000) is "one billion" (a million millions)

    So I believe Spanish matches British English in this case.

    What is the reason for the Americans to so so? (if there is any...)

    Many thanks again indeed! :)
  31. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Hi, I searched for this in other threads but did not find.

    What is the meaning of "billion" in the present time?

    In German language, it is a million million.

    In the USA it was used differently as thousand million.

    In British usage, it was following the million million standard, but not always.

    How is the usage today, and is it marked somehow, what is meant?

    Best regards
  32. laurahya Senior Member

    BC, Canada
    British English
    As far as I know, general usage in Britain and America remains the same as you quoted. As an English person, I would understand a billion to be one million million. However, when used to describe financial statistics, particularly at an international level, I believe British commentators almost always use American billions.
  33. petereid

    petereid Senior Member

    selby yorkshire
    The origin of billion, trillion etc referred to the number of million "sets"
    Million has one set of "000,000"
    Billion has two sets "000,000, 000 000"
    Trillion has three sets "000,000, 000,000, 000,000" etc.
    For some reason the USA didn't quite understand, and called a thousand million a "Billion" even though the word milliard was already in use in Europe.
  34. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Take a look at this page (scroll down).

    Cheeky! :p
    Actually, both ways of counting were invented by Europeans. :)
  35. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    However, without even looking it up, I'd bet good money that Americans invented the Gazillion. Which down South we call lebenty-lebenteen.
  36. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Nope, you're not hallucinating, Fox... this is slightly off-topic but, yes, we in Canada followed the British "Imperial" measurement system which meant that our gallons were bigger than yours so you got 1/5th more gas in a gallon (hence, paid more). However, as I'm sure you're aware, we've been on the metric system for decades now so that should no longer be a problem - except that manufacturers sneakily made the conversion from Imperial to U.S. at the same time so that when I buy paint now, a "gallon" is based on the U.S. measurement and I get 3.78 litres (U.S. gallon) instead of 4.5 litres (Imperial gallon) for relatively the same price I was paying for an Imperial gallon! And they just didn't bother clarifying that part of the so-called "conversion". Applies to everything from paint to motor oil. Those darned businessmen will get you every time!;)
  37. carrotcake Member

    Hi Everyone,

    I am confused when we say 1 billion in number.

    I use 1 billion when I talk about 1000,000,000,000 in number.
    I used to live in the UK, so my friends were using this way.

    However, when I start working in the US company in my country,
    my boss was using 1 billion when we were talking about 1,000,000,000.

    This is quite confusing me, should I just understand there is completely
    different for American and British use "billion"?
    So what about other places? such as European people speaks English,
    or Australian etc.
    It makes me very confused when I talk with many different nationarities
    while I am working.

    However, when I read British newspapers, I often notice they use
    the same way that US use.
    On the other hand, my English study book says that "billion" is used
    differently in the US and the UK.
    This is the reason I am very confused.
  38. born in newyork Senior Member

    New York
    I can only speak for the U.S. A billion is 1,000,000,000 always and without exception. I'd be very curioius to hear what it means in other countries.
  39. Old Novice

    Old Novice Senior Member

    USA, English
    A billion in the U.S. is one thousand million (one and nine zeros). In the U.K. it is one million million (one and twelve zeros)
  40. LeonTheOutsider Senior Member

    Taiwan, Mandarin
    A billion is always 1,000,000,000 (1,000 million), no matter it's in US, UK, or any other part of the world.
  41. carrotcake Member

    Hello born in newyork,

    Thanks for your reply.
    Yes, my American boss was telling me "a billion" is 1,000,000,000.
    However, when I was talking with my British school mate some time ago,
    when I said "the world population is 6billion(currently 6.5billion) now", and
    she was so surprised, and she corrected me to "6 thousand million".
    However, when I read UK government papers and books written by
    British writers, I notice they use "a billion = 1,000,000,000." So I am
    very confusing about this.
  42. LeonTheOutsider Senior Member

    Taiwan, Mandarin
    That's old-fashioned English in UK.
    Nowadays one million million (1,000,000,000,000) is called a trillion everywhere in the world including UK).
  43. Old Novice

    Old Novice Senior Member

    USA, English
    Could be, although I believe it was standard during my lifetime, with "milliard" meaning a thousand million in the U.K. (Of course, the "Old" in my name is deserved. :D) Maybe some of our British friends can weigh in in the morning.
  44. MeiLing

    MeiLing Member

    Saudi Arabia
    milliard (UK, it is old as LeonTheOutsider says) = trillion (everywhere now)
  45. LeonTheOutsider Senior Member

    Taiwan, Mandarin
    Yes, you're right, Old Novice. UK is really old in using English as a langauge. :D

    Many dictionaries say so in their definitions of milliard, but usage is limited only in UK to represent a thousand million. I wonder if it will persist.
  46. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    The "American" billion has taken over in Australia.

    When I was a lad, it was usual to talk about X thousand million, but to-day folk say X billion.

    In French and German, an "American" billion is called a Milliard. I've seen the word in print in English, but I have never actually heard anyone use it.
  47. carrotcake Member

    Hi Everyone,

    Thank you so much for your replies.

    Now I understand that "billion" used in Britain is changed to the American
    "billion" used.
    That's why I found British newspapers are using the American "billion".
    One of my good business English book was mentioned about the "billion", and when I write a business letter or anything in British English, I have to use the british "billion", so I was not sure if people mentioned about "billion" at work.

    Thanks everyone, I will just use the American "billion" when I talk to anyone including British business pertners!
  48. rodoke Senior Member

    Illinois, USA
    en-US; .us
  49. LeonTheOutsider Senior Member

    Taiwan, Mandarin

    a milliard (UK) = a thousand million = a billion (US)
    a billion (UK, old) = a million million = a thousand billion (US) = a trillion (US)
  50. MeiLing

    MeiLing Member

    Saudi Arabia
    i c. Thank you, LeonTheOutsider, for the tip.

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