The counting numbers with which we are all familiar are usually based on a decimal system, counting in tens. This is not universal and some languages count in twenties. Of particular interest here are two languages whose primary area adjoins Spain: French and Basque. In French the numbers from 60 to 80, and from 80 to 100 still move in twenties with no separate number for 70 or 90 at least in French spoken in France, other francophone countries do have such words. According to the Wikipedia article on the sistema vigesimal Basque uses twenties although I have no way of checking that personally. Given that proximity I am asking whether this was ever true in Spanish.

Note that I am talking here specifically about use in the counting numbers. I know that Spanish, in common with other languages, has words for various collections like docena and including veinteno but that is not part of the counting system just meaning as the DLE states

  1. f. Conjunto de 20 unidades.

I know we do not usually consider the other languages spoken in Spain but if anyone has any insights drawn from the other languages spoken in the Pyrenean region they might be useful and interesting.

1 Answer 1


Sessenta son las reínas, e ochenta las amigas, e de las mancebiellas non á cuenta.

Alfonso X, "General Estoria. Tercera Parte", before 1280 (Spain).

The Spanish counting system is directly derived from Latin, which used a 10-based counting system. In French you refer to the number eighty as "four times twenty", and to the number ninety as "four times twenty plus ten", as a remainder of a vigesimal counting system that never arrived into Spanish.

The numbers in Spanish come from the following Latin words:

 1 I     ūnus
 2 II    duo       --> 20 vīgintī      --> veinte
 3 III   trēs      --> 30 trīgintā     --> treinta
 4 IV    quattuor  --> 40 quadrāgintā  --> cuarenta
 5 V     quīnque   --> 50 quīnquāgintā --> cincuenta
 6 VI    sex       --> 60 sexāgintā    --> sesenta
 7 VII   septem    --> 70 septuāgintā  --> setenta
 8 VIII  octō      --> 80 octōgintā    --> ochenta
 9 IX    novem     --> 90 nōnāgintā    --> noventa
10 X     decem

You can find the Spanish numbers written in this way since the 13rd century.

As a genealogy amateur, after having seen lots of documents from the 16th century on, I've never noticed any different way of writing the numbers. And I can't find any reference to a vigesimal counting system in any text in the CORDE nor in old dictionaries.

One peculiarity I have found about the Latin language is that you could say, for instance, 58 as "fifty and eight" or as "two to sixty" ('duodēsexāgintā'), or 29 as "twenty and nine" or "one to thirty" ('ūndētrīgintā'), but that did not arrive to the Spanish language as far as I know.

I do not know if any of the other languages spoken in Spain may use the vigesimal system or a remainder of that, but searching a bit we can see that in Galician, Asturian, Aragonese and Catalan the numbers are almost the same as in Castillian Spanish.

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