How Many Is A Billion?

This question came up in class recently, with the students convinced that a billion equals a thousand million, and myself opting for a million million. So, below is the explanation for the confusion, taken verbatim from:

Further online research shows that despite this being common usage (i.e. BBC, newspapers, academia etc) for at least 20-30 years, many British English speakers still find the term confusing… Well, not me any more at least! So thanks to the Bec Higher group for bringing that to my attention, hehe 🙂

One of the students also insisted that the word Milliard, used in German to denote a billion (i.e. 1,000,000,000) is also an English language term, albeit old fashioned. Never having heard of such a thing I looked it up, and lo and behold, right she was, although to all intents and purposes the term is now clearly dead. Best explanation is on Wikipedia at but I did check and they are quite right in this instance.

Oxford Dictionaries entry:

In British English, a billion used to be equivalent to a million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000), while in American English it has always equated to a thousand million (i.e. 1,000,000,000). British English has now adopted the American figure, though, so that a billion equals a thousand million in both varieties of English.

In British English, a trillion used to mean a million million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000). Nowadays, it’s generally held to be equivalent to a million million (1,000,000,000,000), as it is in American English.

The same sort of change has taken place with the meaning of trillion.

About Robert D. E. Senior

Fully qualified and experienced Professional English teacher / trainer UK native speaker BA (hons, first class) Linguistics and TEFL 15 years experience in UK, Spain and Austria FCE - CAE - CPE - BEC V - BEC H - TOEFL - IELTS Business, Academic and General English
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1 Response to How Many Is A Billion?

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