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19th century English texts occasionally use germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

In Arabic and even in several European languages (e.g. German) one reads the lower ranks digit first.

  • German => 24 is read vierundzwanzig
  • Arabic => 24 (٢٤) is read Arba3aton wa 3echroun" (أربعةٌ وعشرون).

In Old English you find the same order:

  • Old English => 24 is read féower ond twentig.
  • Present Day English => twenty four.

So it looks like the reading order has changed at some point. The question is: why and when ?

  • Uhm... I think the Germanic languages would be more relevant to your question... A quick search on my own revealed that also in Danish they say 4-20, which should be firetyve but I'm looking for confirmation.
    – Alenanno
    May 13, 2011 at 15:21
  • Well, it was after 1744, but I guess you knew that, given the example you chose. Unless you were just going for the drug reference. May 13, 2011 at 15:33
  • I know in persian ,24 => بیست و چهار, like present day English.
    – user8568
    May 13, 2011 at 15:46
  • 1
    Careful here, note how a German would read 124: einhundertvierundzwanzig. The reading order is mixed. Also note the funny things the French do between 60 and 100. May 13, 2011 at 15:46
  • It may be a Northern England thing (which is generally closer to Middle English), or less formal education — but my grandparents would say four and twenty.
    – mgb
    May 13, 2011 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


This is a very interesting question, but also a very complicated one.
It seems that the Jains, the believers in the old Indian religion Jainism, have invented the positional numeration ( at least they seem to have written the oldest known texts on the subject). Positional numeration means describing all integers with just ten digits whose value varies according to their position in the written representation and, of course, this necessitates the use of a zero digit which has no intrinsic value but functions as a placeholder.
The information relevant to the question is that they enunciated numbers by starting with the digit for units, then that for dozens, etc. In other words, the order opposite to the one used in contemporary English.

This does not answer the OP's question, but at least, since there have been deviations, we know from what they were deviations. I'm adding a link to a text (in French, unfortunately) by a historian who, interestingly for the users of this site, also evokes the Indian grammarian Panini. The point most relevant to our discussion is on page 199.

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