Spanish – Variations on the Number Five


Number FiveFive? Really? What’s hard about five? Everyone knows that five is cinco, don’t they? Because of Cinco de Mayo. Right?

But there are strange things done at certain levels of five. The first time a Costa Rican vendor told me a pound of tomatoes would set me back quinientos (keen-ien-tos) I gasped with shock.  And he looked at me with some alarm, because HE had not done anything that deserved a gasp.  Quinientos is five hundred, not fifteen hundred, which is what my untutored self thought.  And 500 colones was worth about forty cents at the time.

Backing off a bit, the first time the fives get strange is at fifteen.  What would you think fifteen would be?  Well, diez y cinco, of course.  Because nearly all double numbers are something y something.  Eighteen:  diez y ocho.  Nineteen: diez y nueve.

Nope.  Diez y cinco is something only a gringo would say.  No, fifteen is a whole new word: quince (keen-say).

Twenty-five, though a bit off the path, is easy, unless you are trying to spell it. Veinte is twenty. Change the last ‘e’ to an ‘i’ and add cinco. Veinticinco. Actually, if you ran veinte y cinco together, that’s what you would get. So it makes perfect sense.

And thirty-five. Back to the easy path. Thirty (treinta) plus five. Treinta y cinco. And so forth.

Except… fifty. Which is cinquenta. But at least it still has the cin part of cinco.

And then we get to the pen where my personal black beasts live: 500 and 1500. For some reason I can’t keep these straight.  Five hundred is quinientos. Fifteen hundred is mil quinientos (one thousand five hundred). And my brain fades to black.

All the vendors who know me (and the 100,000 gringos like me) simply write the number down if it involves either of these. They don’t even bother trying to say it.