French Vocabulary Lesson: Quantities, Weights, and Measures

Learn How to Quantify Things in French

French bakery
Philippe TURPIN/Photononstop/Getty Images

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, tinune boîte de
bottleune bouteille de
boxun carton de
tablespoonune cuillère à soupe de
teaspoonune cuillère à thé de
gramun gramme
kilogramun kilogramme de
un kilo de
literun litre de
poundune livre de
mileun mille
footun pied
jar, cupun pot de
inchun pouce
cupune tasse de
glassun 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, enoughassez (de)
as much, as manyautant (de)
a lot, manybeaucoup (de)
quite a fewbien de*
how many, muchcombien (de)
moreencore de*
around, approximatelyenviron
the majority ofla majorité de*
the minority of la minorité de*
less, fewermoins (de)
a number ofun nombre de
quite a fewpas mal de
few, little, not very(un) peu (de)
mostla plupart de*
moreplus (de)
a lot ofune quantité de
so much, so manytant (de)
too much, too manytrop (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 dozenune douzaine
about fifteen [days] (about two weeks)une quinzaine
about twentyune vingtaine
about thirtyune trentaine
about fortyune quarantaine
about fiftyune cinquantaine
about sixtyune soixantaine
about a hundredune centaine
about a thousandun 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