French Vocabulary Lesson: Quantities, Weights, and Measures

Learn How to Quantify Things in French

French bakery
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As you learn French, you will want to learn how to describe things in terms of quantity. From basic weights and measures to adverbs describing how many or how much, by the end of this vocabulary lesson, you will have a good understanding of quantifying things.

This lesson is for an intermediate level student as some of it discusses concepts like conjugating verbs and the adverbs used to define quantities. However, with a little study and practice, any student of French can follow the lesson.

Quantities, Weights, and Measures (Les Quantités, les Poids et les Mesures)

To begin the lesson, let's look at easy French words that describe simple quantities, weights, and measurements. 

can, box, tin une boîte de
bottle une bouteille de
box un carton de
tablespoon une cuillère à soupe de
teaspoon une cuillère à thé de
gram un gramme
kilogram un kilogramme de
un kilo de
liter un litre de
pound une livre de
mile un mille
foot un pied
jar, cup un pot de
inch un pouce
cup une tasse de
glass un verre de

Adverbs of Quantity (Adverbes de quantité)

French adverbs of quantity explain how many or how much.

Adverbs of quantity (except très - very) are often followed by de + noun. When this happens, the noun usually does not have an article in front of it; i.e., de stands alone, with no definite article.*

  • There are a lot of problems. - Il y a beaucoup de problèmes.
  • I have fewer students than Thierry. - J'ai moins d'étudiants que Thierry.

*This does not apply to the starred adverbs below, which are always followed by the definite article.

Exception: When the noun after de refers to specific people or things, the definite article is used and contracts with de just as the partitive article would. Compare the following sentences to the above examples to see what is meant by 'specific'.

  • A lot of the problems are serious. - Beaucoup des problèmes sont graves.
    - We are referring to specific problems, not problems in general.
  • Few of Thierry's students are here. - Peu des étudiants de Thierry sont ici.
    - This is a specific group of students, not students in general.

To further your understanding of the adverbs used with quantities, read: Du, De La, Des… Expressing Unspecified Quantities In French.

quite, fairly, enough assez (de)
as much, as many autant (de)
a lot, many beaucoup (de)
quite a few bien de*
how many, much combien (de)
more davantage
more encore de*
around, approximately environ
the majority of la majorité de*
the minority of la minorité de*
less, fewer moins (de)
a number of un nombre de
quite a few pas mal de
few, little, not very (un) peu (de)
most la plupart de*
more plus (de)
a lot of une quantité de
only seulement
so si
so much, so many tant (de)
so tellement
very très
too much, too many trop (de)

Approximate Numbers (Nombres approximatifs)

When you want to make an estimate or take a guess, you can use approximate numbers. Most approximate French numbers are formed with the cardinal number, minus the final e (if there is one), plus the suffix -aine.

about eight [days] (about a week) une huitaine
about ten (note that x in dix changes to z) une dizaine
a dozen une douzaine
about fifteen [days] (about two weeks) une quinzaine
about twenty une vingtaine
about thirty une trentaine
about forty une quarantaine
about fifty une cinquantaine
about sixty une soixantaine
about a hundred une centaine
about a thousand un millier

Approximate numbers are treated grammatically as expressions of quantity. Like all expressions of quantity, approximate numbers must be joined to the noun they modify with de

  • about 10 students - une dizaine d'étudiants 
  • about 40 books - une quarantaine de livres
  • hundreds of cars - des centaines de voitures 
  • thousands of documents - des milliers de documents

Note that in English, it's typical to talk about "dozens" of something, whereas in French it's more natural to say dizaines rather than the literal equivalent douzaines:

  • dozens of ideas - des dizaines d'idées