Numbers in Hebrew can be a confusing topic. So I hope by the end of this post, you’ll have a basic understanding of the Hebrew number system and how to read and write them.
In English we have two types of numbers: cardinal (one, two, three, four, etc) and ordinal: first, second, third, fourth and so on. That’s pretty simple. They are all gender neutral, and the ordinal numbers after ‘third’ are derived from their cardinal form with a simple addition of -th. In this post, I’ll be talking about the cardinal numbers.
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The first 10 letters (א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י) have the values 1-10. The next
9 letters (כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק) are valued 20, 30, 40 and so on up to 100. The remainder (ר ש ת) are valued 200, 300, and 400.
In Israel today, the decimal system of Hindu-Arabic numerals (ex. 0, 1, 2, 3, etc.) is used in almost all cases (money, age, date on the civil calendar). The Hebrew numerals are used only in special cases, such as when using the Hebrew calendar, or numbering a list (similar to a, b, c, d, etc.), much as Roman numerals are in the West.
In the table here, you’ll see that each letter has a numerical value used in writing numbers.
|200 - ר||20 – כ||1 - א|
|300 – ש||30 – ל||2 – ב|
|400 – ת||40 – מ||3 - ג|
|50 – נ||4 - ד|
|60 - ס||5 – ה|
|70 – ע||6 – ו|
|80 – פ||7 – ז|
|90 – צ||8 – ח|
|100 – ק||9 – ט|
|10 – י|
Before Going On…
Can you write the following numbers in Hebrew? 1, 4, 3, 7, 10
Numbers higher than 10
Hebrew numbers are formed differently from numbers in English. In the English system only 10 digits are used, and the position of the digit indicates its value in powers of 10 beginning at 1, so the digit value is multiplied by 1, 10, 100, 1000, etc. as the position increases from right to left.
Hebrew numbers on the other hand, simply add the values of each letter together – written from largest to smallest. For numbers greater than 799, tav (ת 400) is repeated.
Let me show you how it’s done
To represent the number 726, the largest valued letter you can get is ת (tav – 400), which leaves 326. So you then add ש (sheen – 300) which gives us 26 left over. Adding כ kahf – 20 and ו vahv – 6 finishes the number. So 726 is represented by tav, shin, kahf, vahv: תשכו.
Let’s look at some other numbers and break them down (remember, they are still written and read from right to left):
534 = ת + ק + ל + ד – תקלד
872 = ת + ת + ע + ב – תתעב
654 = ת + ר + נ + ד – תרנד
Write these numbers in Hebrew: 269, 798, 333, 815
Note: I gave you a trick number here: 815. In Hebrew, the numbers 15 and 16 are not written as you might expect (i.e., יה and יו, but rather as טז and טו) in order to avoid writing the name of God (יהוה) by accident. This includes larger numbers such as 115, 216 and so on.
When used in text, etc. the mark called “ge-resh” (גֶּרֶשׁ) is used to show that it’s a number you’re reading and not an actual word. It looks like an apostrophe, here’s how it works:
If a number is written as a single character, add a single ge-resh (גֶּרֶשׁ) after it:
יום א׳ – Sunday (literally Day 1), where the alpeh represents the number “1″.
If a number is written with more than one letter, then you add two geresh (גֶּרֶשָׁים – ger-sha-yeem) before the last character:
22 letters – כ״ב אותיות
Page 176 – דף קע”ו
Speaking the numbers
Now that you have an idea of reading and writing numbers in Hebrew, how would you go about actually saying them in conversation, or you need to repeat a number to someone? Well, using them in speech is a little inconsistent. Some people spell them out letter by letter (ל״ו תַּפּוּחַים - lamed vav tah-poo-kheem – 36 apples), others pronounce them as if they were actual words (ט״ו בשבט – tu bishvat – The 15th of Shevat), and still others as the number they represent (ד׳ אמות – arba amot – four cubits).
Remember in the post titled All About You, You and I, it was mentioned that Hebrew nouns have gender? Numbers are affected by this also. So, when we say the numbers in Hebrew we need to keep this in mind. Why? Numbers are, strictly speaking, nouns, and they can be masculine or feminine:
When counting, giving a telephone number, a bus or street number, or telling the time, the feminine form is used אחת, שתים, שלוש, ארבע, etc. You use the masculine forms when you are counting something of masculine gender.
Read the following telephone numbers:
Try doing math in Hebrew
שְׁתַיִם + שָׁלוֹשׁ = ??
שֵׁשׁ + אַרְבַּע = ??
שֶׁבַע + שְׁתַיִם = ??
Whew! That’s a lot of information for this post. Practice your counting in Hebrew as best you can. After all, practice makes perfect!
I’ll be putting up a post soon on the ordinal numbers. So keep an eye out for that. Okay? לְהִתְרָאוֹת (See you later)!