How to Learn to Read Big Numbers

By Contributing Writer; Updated April 24, 2017
You're learning that numbers have places.

What is 133,939,385? Does it look confusing? Is it just too much to take in? Large numbers can look overwhelming and just looking at them can confuse some people, but it shouldn't. It is nothing more than another number, larger perhaps but that's about all. Reading big numbers is actually quite simple if you break it into steps. You just need to approach the idea with an open mind and the determination to not get frustrated, and you will learn to read large numbers in no time at all.

Start with a fairly small number that you should be able to read: 836. Let's break it down. The eight is in the hundreds column, the three is in the tens column, and you read it with the six which is in the ones column so it is read as thirty-six. Put it together and it reads as eight hundred thirty-six. Could you do that? If you could, there is no reason you can't read even larger numbers.

Add another digit to 836. Now the number is 2,836. The comma after the two is in the thousands column and you would put in the word "thousand" where the comma is, so now it would read two thousand eight hundred thirty-six.

Add two more digits to the 2,836. Let's make the new number 122,836. The comma between the two and the eight still reads as "thousand". Read the first three numbers: one hundred twenty-two. Easy enough. Now say "thousand" where the comma is and say the last three digits as before. Now you have one hundred twenty-two thousand, eight hundred twenty-six.

Add three more digits to our existing number. Now we have 325,122,836. The number is getting long! The comma closest to the back of the number still reads thousand, but now we have another comma. That comma reads as "million". Put the word "million" in where the first comma is. Read the first three digits: three hundred twenty-five, put in the word "million" where the comma is, read the second set of three: one hundred twenty-two and put the word "thousand" in where the second comma is, and complete the number as before. Now we have three hundred twenty-five million, one hundred twenty-two thousand, eight hundred thirty-six.

Add three more digits: 532,325,122,836. The other two commas in the number stay the same: the one to the right still reads as "thousand" and the second one, now in the middle, reads as "million". The new comma reads as billion! Read the three digits before the comma: five hundred thirty-two and add in your new word, "billion". So now the problem reads five hundred thirty-two billion, three hundred twenty-five million, one hundred twenty-two thousand, eight hundred thirty six!


Do not expect to catch on instantly. Practice with just the thousands and when you think you've got it, add more digits to make the number in the millions and then billions. Make sure you are reading the numbers correctly. Enlist someone to help you and read the numbers back to them to make sure you are not making any mistakes.