How do Spanish-Speakers count on their fingers?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by melissambwilkins, Jul 25, 2006.

  1. melissambwilkins

    melissambwilkins Member

    English (U.S.) - United States of America
    I was once told that Spanish-speakers count on their fingers starting with their thumb, not their index fingers as people in the United States usually do. The progression, therefore, would be thumb, index, .... to pinky for the numbers 1-5.

    I cannot find ANY verification of this in any of my "gestures" books, previous discussions in any forums, or anything!

    So... if you are a native of or traveler to any of the Spanish-Speaking countries in the world, how DO people count on their fingers there? Thumbs first? Index first? Other?

    Thanks for your help!

    Melissa MB Wilkins
  2. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I'm English and I start with my thumb too!
  3. Fernando Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    I use the calculator.

    Kidding. I have not noticed any pattern. (I think) I start with the little finger.
  4. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    I have seen Spanish and French speakers start with the thumb but may not be universal.
  5. saturnian New Member

    Saturn - English
    Me too!

    But why do people from the United States apparently start with their index finger? :confused:
    (I didn't even know they did it).

    Could anyone tell us what is the finger order used for counting there? :D
  6. Lavinia.dNP

    Lavinia.dNP Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Sicilian with Italian-French mothertongue
    I'm waiting for this answer too, because it's the first time I hear about somebody starting to count from the index finger. Does this imply that they can only count up to 8 with their 2 hands?

    In Italy we start from the thumb.
  7. maxiogee Banned

    Toes first, easy numbers don't need to be seen to be counted, then thumb for eleven and upwards. ;)

    Division is a b-one-tch! Thankfully I wear slip-on shoes! :D
  8. Bilma Senior Member

    Spanish Mexico
    I start with the index.
  9. Yeu

    Yeu Senior Member

    Santiago - Chile
    Español (México)
    I start with the little finger.
  10. saturnian New Member

    Saturn - English
    I think that whether you are left or right-handed could also play a part in this... because being right-handed I count from the thumb to the little finger on my left hand using a finger on my right hand... but if I were left-handed then I'm sure I'd count from the little finger to the thumb on my right hand using a finger on my left hand (...hope that makes sense).

    However, I still don't understand why people in the USA apparently start with the index finger... As Lavinia has said: "Does this imply that they can only count up to 8 with their 2 hands?
  11. rocioteag

    rocioteag Senior Member

    Mexico City
    Español / México
    I start with the little finger ( and I think most of mexicans do);)
  12. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK
    Whereas I count from my thumb to my little finger by unfolding them (i.e. I start with a closed hand and stick my fingers up as I count), the people around me in Mexico count from their little fingers to their thumbs by folding them down (i.e. they start with an open hand and fold their fingers in as they count). I don't know if this is a national or regional tendency...

    Either way, most of us can count to 10. If you start with your index finger do you count your thumbs at the end?
  13. saturnian New Member

    Saturn - English
    Ah, me too, now I think about it. :eek:

    That's interesting!
    I was wondering the same thing (although it seems quite a strange way to count to me).
  14. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I'm left handed and start with my left thumb.
  15. zebedee

    zebedee Senior Member

    Valencia - Spain
    Gt. Britain - English
    I'm left-handed and start with my thumb.

    Like Loladamore says, I've seen people starting from their thumb unfolding their fingers, and starting from their little finger by folding down their fingers (the 2nd option more in Spain than in UK) but I don't remember seeing anyone start counting from their index finger. Do the thumbs go at the end then, index-finger counters?
  16. Arenita

    Arenita Senior Member

    Lima - Perú
    Well, I am Peruvian and I also start with my little finger. Howeve, this is the first time I realized that. Interesting!
  17. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    I'm French and I begin with my thumb.
    I was surprised to see a Spanish friend (from the Canary Islands) starting with her index but she said it was very common.
    So, when wanting to express "2", she showed her forefinger and middle finger, her palm facing her ... which was not something to do in England :D
  18. hohodicestu

    hohodicestu Senior Member

    Mexico - Spanish

    jajajajajajaja...very funny Fernando... :)
    In the North of Mexico, we start with the thumb...

  19. caravaggio Senior Member

    Peru / USA
    Peru - castellano
    yo también empiezo con el meñique
  20. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English

    I'm thinking Ten Little Indians and remembering Mrs. G in Kindergarten in the States, and she started counting from her little finger up!
    And yes, I guess for some instances, I would start counting with my index fingers (one through eight and then nine and ten with my thumbs) and then the other part of me would count from little finge to the thumb. Hmm.. I had never really thought about it.
  21. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I'm Serbian and I start with the thumb too...

    How can you possibly start with index finger? it's not logical...:D
  22. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Sorry, I have to dissapoint you.
    I am totally left handed, and I start from the thumb.Of my left hand, though....:D
  23. saturnian New Member

    Saturn - English
    It's okay, you didn't disappoint me. ;)
    I said if I were left-handed I'm sure I would count that way (if I was using my other hand to count), but reading your reply and the others, maybe I wouldn't...
    I agree. Can anyone from the USA explain this to us? :confused:
  24. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    What is the first number that you start counting with? #1
    When someone asks you "how many do you want?" and you only want one, which finger do you hold up? The index finger, with the other fingers closed in a semi-fist.
    Therefore, when I hold my hand out, palm up, fingers pointing away from me, I start counting by touching one index finger to the other.
    Why? Because my brain considers the index finger as "finger number one".

    My other fingers automatically fold inward to make room for the other hand, and then each finger extends as I count "2" (middle finger), "3" (ring finger), "4" (pinkie) and "5" has lots of emphasis as the thumb pops out.

    I recently returned to this style of counting after many, many years spent counting with my pinkie (little finger) as the first finger. Why did I change? Because nonverbally, starting to count with your pinkie as the first finger sends the message that you are weak -- especially for men.
  25. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Good thinking. Yes, when I have to show only 1 or two, I will show index finger or if it is two, then index finger and the middle one. But this is not counting. This is showing how much.

    Pinkie?:confused: The little one?
    I saw people starting to count with little finger, but it still seems wierd to me. I also unfold fingers from the fist, so if I see someone who folds down the fingers from the open hand to fist, it looks wierd, too...

    But I guess that if someone from Mexico or USA saw me counting, I would seem wierd to them too...:D
  26. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Personally, I find it hard to stretch out your little finger and then the ring finger (I need some help from my other hand (I know, I'm not very supple that's pathetic but usually the fourth finger can't move as well as the others)).

    If I say just one, with the index finger, it would look a bit strange for me, I would have the impression to try to attract attention and ask people to be quiet or telling off a child.
    And with 2 fingers, I just can't do it with the index finger and the middle finger (for the reason I mentioned previously). And I could use these fingers only if I turned my hand round but it's a bit difficult and not really convenient.

    So, not sure there's a pattern in the end. I had never thought about that either, before (just before I lost my innocence reading that thread) I had always thought people started counting with their first fingers - as called in music - that is, their thumbs.
  27. ronvas Member

    United States, Spanish
    If I am counting just for myself I will lift my left hand, palm facing me, fingers folded, and start counting with the thumb. If I am counting to show someone else something, then my palm is facing the interlocutor and I start counting with the little finger. I think the principle is going from left to right. It is my impression.
  28. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    We're number 1!
    We're number 1!
    Yeah, NUMBER ONE!!

    What finger would that be?

    Anyway, I think it depends on how you were taught to count when you were a little kid. I learned that you started with a closed fist and unfolder fingers as you went along like this:
    1= index
    2= middle
    3= ring
    4= pinky
    5= thumb

    ... and because I learned it in this manner, I taught my children to do it the same way. They'll probably teach their children and so on and so forth, so in a few generations we will have a tiny little pocket of resistance against the evil forces of pinky-first counters.
    Bye now.
  29. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Dani, I think not...jejejejejej

    According to all those posts everybody but Americans and Mexicans start from the thumb, so:
    1 - thumb
    2 - index
    3 - middle
    4 - ring
    5 pinkie

    Americans start from index, and Mexicans from pinkie...

    Am I right or am I right?:D
  30. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Thanks for that summary.

    I've just realized that to show 4 I "hide" my thumb and show my other fingers.
    In some cases, it's just a question of practicability. I'm not good enough just to fold my little finger.
  31. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Yes, TO SHOW 4 I do the same. It is somehow uncomfortable to have only pikie one folded down...:p

    But when I count, it goes thumb, index, middle, ring....
  32. belén

    belén Senior Member

    Spanish, Spain, Catalan, Mallorca
    I recently started learning Chinese. When we got to the lesson about "numbers" the teacher not only told us what the numbers are called, written and pronounced, but also how you show them. It is completely different to the way we do it around here.
    To begin with, you have signs from 1 to 9 that are done with only 1 hand (that means you don't need your 2 hands to show number "8") The teacher told us that this culture was developed because of language problems, this way, everybody would understand what number one was referring to.

    I found a web with pictures of the gestures here. :)
  33. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    How interesting, Belen!

    Well, if I have to show numbers (not to count) I would do the same until five, with the exception of number 3. In the picture, index, middle and ring fingers are raised. I would do it with thumb, index and middle finger.
  34. loladamore

    loladamore Senior Member

    Zacatecas, México
    English UK

    I think I'd stick my thumbs up to express that sentiment, like this: :thumbsup: !

    After having said that the people around me here in Mexico count starting with the little finger, which they fold in, my husband (who is Mexican) says that when he counts on his fingers, he does it the way Daniel says, but that he does it that way because he finds it difficult to fold his fingers in starting with the little finger (like Prudence and Natasha said). Mind you, he also said that he doesn't actually count on his fingers, unless it is for the benefit of others (eg, with children), and that the numbers look clearer if you start with the index finger. Hmm.

    So perhaps there is no general rule in Mexico... and perhaps it depends as much on whether we are counting or showing as on where we are. I do count on my fingers, starting with my thumb, but I will show my index and middle fingers in a bar to get 2 more beers brought across. I wouldn't in England, though...

    And as for raising just my index finger, I'd feel like I was asking a teacher if I could speak, or go to the toilet, or in an audience participation moment when someone asks, 'How many of you have ever travelled by train?'.

    Oh, and what an interesting link, Belen!

  35. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    how interesting, Lola.... In Serbia, children do that with two fingers in the air - index and middle one.:D
  36. VeroSimone New Member

    Dany, that´s the way we count in argentina.!!!

    1 - thumb
    2 - index
    3 - middle
    4 - ring
    5 - pinkie


  37. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    A bit off-topic: In France as well schoolchildren raise just their index fingers.
    (with the index and the middle ones I would have the impression of saying "peace and love, man" :D )
    And when they're a bit taller they just raise their hands.
  38. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Yes, I understand your point of view:)

    But I still remember the teacher saying: Don't speak everybody at once, raise your two fingers and wait until I give you a word."
  39. Rozax

    Rozax Senior Member

    English - USA
    When ordering drinks for my family in Germany, I held up four fingers (starting with my index) for clarification in our loud surroundings. He looked puzzled, asking "fünf?" when I thought it was plain that I wanted "vier". Someone nearby explained the situation to me, and I've taken that bit of knowledge with me on other trips.
  40. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    Rozax, can you explain it to us, as they explained it to you, please?

    So, four fingers stretched and a thumb folded (if I understood well) is 5 in Germany? Then, how do they show 4?
  41. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Oh, no! Not counting with fingers again! :D ;)
    Just for the record (I had to think about this) I usually count in this order: index, middle finger, ring finger, little finger, thumb.
  42. marz81 New Member

    Spain - Spanish
    I am Spanish and in fact, I think I count in different ways! lol
    I think I usually start with the thumb, then index..... but I also count starting with the little one (pimkie??)
    About counting with the fingers, I lived last year in England and I had many problems when asking for 2 beers, since in Spain is ok to show the index and middle finger with your...palm? facing you for saying 2, but in England it seems to be very rude!! Many funny (and sometimes embarrasing stories) about that!
    We also count by with the 2 hands.... ok, I will try to explain it! lol
    We unfold the little one of one hand, and take the finger of the other and put them together, and continue by the ring one, the middle.... I hope you can understand what I mean!!!
  43. Kräuter_Fee

    Kräuter_Fee Senior Member

    Portuguese&Spanish (native)/ (English&German - foreign)
    I start with my index finger, the thumb is the last one.
  44. Pollet Member

    Florida, USA
    Espanol Mexico
    I start with the index
  45. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Americans my age tend to count on our fingers differently than we display numbers by "sign language."

    You count by holding your hand palm up and fingers slightly curled. You count with your thumb, counting 1-2-3-4 by touching the pinky, ring finger, middle finger, index finger-- then pointing the thumb out to indicate 5. Then repeat as needed, in increments of 5.

    To show numbers, you hold your hand up, palm facing the person being displayed to. You raise index fiinger for one, make a V sign with index and middle finger for 2 (palm facing outward, so as not to offend the brits), then proceed with ring finger, pinky and thumb for all five numbers.

    Adults tend to count further by repeating the process with the same hand-- children continue with the other hand, holding up the five numbers already registered, so that the visible image will correlate with the number represented.

    When I lived in Italy, 1 was a thumb extended upward with palm toward me, 2 added the index finger, but pointed to the side rather than upward. The rest of the fingers open to increase the count, but they point off to the side, not straight up.

    For Americans, "goodbye" is an up-and-down waggle of the fingers held together and moved in unison, palm outward or downward. In Italian it is a similar movement with the palm pointed toward the gesturer. The thumb is pretty much uninvolved in either language. The Italian "goodbye" tends to move the fingers as a unit, like clenching, and the American outward-facing variant tends to waggle the fingers separately.

    "Come here" is different too. Americans have a hand-only version just about identical to the Italian "goodbye" gesture, and a whole-forearm gesture that sweeps toward the gesturer. Italians extend an open hand, fingers together and palm downard, and draw the forearm or whole arm downward sharply, as if they're trying to pull you toward them.

    When you think about it, these gestures are very different, and easy to completely misunderstand-- especially the Italian for ven aca! It looks like you're trying to slap something down, or even ward someone off. The ciao (goodbye) gesture looks like you're trying to gestureven aca (come here) with only your hand, like you have bursitis or perhaps tennis elbow.

    I can vouch for the Mexican way of counting, open hand palm-down, with the fingers ticking down or curling starting with the pinky-- it's a little bit like the palm-up method of counting, but doesn't involve touching finger and thumb.

    I don't think a as much miscommunication is at risk in hand gestures as with verbal language-- just pay attention and if you get an impression that seems like nonsense-- rethink the other possibilities, and the right one will probably be the first one to occur to you.

    That one-handed Chinese thing is like sign-language, though, and I think would take a lesson or two to get down. Small enough price to pay for universal communication!

    I love this thread because it deals with language on a level that is arguably "pre-cultural."

    Can anybody do research on Koko and other sign-language-learning primates, and find out what conventions were used in those projects in inter-special communication? I think it would be of interest.

    And whoever said we are not like chimpanzees-- well, to put it politely as I can, have you ever really looked a chimpanzee in the eye?
  46. shaloo

    shaloo Senior Member

    Im Indian and most people in India count with either their index finger or little finger first.
    I was also doing that a while ago, but counting from the thumb looked more elegant, and well, I started doing that way....

  47. Learning Senior Member

    Hi, I'm right-handed and I start with the thumb. I think I've never seen anybody counting with the index or little-finger.
  48. Victoria32

    Victoria32 Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (UK) New Zealand
    My son and I, also, and we're English (in NZ) but as far as I know, the generality of New Zealanders also start with their thumbs....
  49. Girl Of Ipanema Member

    São Paulo
    French living in Brazil
    I am French living in Brazil and I´ve travelled in a lot of countries. French like me, and most Europeans, start w/ their left thumb but in some countries "thumb up" meand OK so maybe that´s why Americans use their index finger for nº 1.Here in Brazil, as most of Southamericans countries, they start counting from their little finger, either hands, I think, using both technics : either they put their thumb in contact w/ their little finger (1) of the same hand w/ their fingers streched, or they put the index of one hand in touch w/ the little finger of the other it cristal clear ?There are all kinds of differences between nationalities regarding symbols, gesture, meaning totally different things. Here for example, Brazilian grab their right earlobe between their thumb and index to signify a delicious food...
  50. Suane

    Suane Senior Member

    In Slovakia-from the thumb>>>but when counting, I use to show for 4 the pinkie first, but many people I know use to fold the thumb and unfold all the other fingers to show 4.

    As far as index finger is concerned, isn't the pointing the unfolded index finger and folded other fingers the sign of warning (like when parents show their children that they shouldn't do something)? Isn't that confusing in the pubs (if that means the same in other countries too)?

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