Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"
Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"

Higher numbers in English can be confusing!

Should you say tens of thousands?

Some numbers work differently in English than in other languages.

Today we bring to you an episode of The Business English podcast.

We shared numbers that you might end up using on IELTS!

Today’s question

This episode was inspired by a question asked by a student in one of Aubrey’s classes.

Why do I never hear ‘tens of millions’ in English?

Depending on your first language, numbers in English might be strange to you!

Numbers work differently in every language. 

Different in every language

Aubrey noticed numbers are 70 work differently in French than in English.

French: after 70 base-20 is used so 70 is ‘sixty ten’ and 80 is ‘four twenties.’

Another example is Danish.

Danish: some multiples of ten are formed with fractions. 50 is 2 ½ x 20 (half third times 20), 70 is 3 ½ x 20 etc.

In Chinese, these larger numbers work differently as well.

Chinese: In English, numbers are broken down by how many thousands they have. However, in Chinese, numbers are based off how many tens of thousands they have. 

Avoid ‘tens of thousands’

Like our student pointed out, we don’t use ‘tens of thousands.’

Today’s episode focuses on this third example.

We use specific terms to generalize or estimate numbers in English.

Using the correct term is especially important in business English!

  • Protip: avoid ‘tens of’

We say ‘dozens of’ instead for small numbers and several for large numbers.

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#1: Thousands

We say ‘thousands’ for multiple thousands below 100,000.

When speaking about money, the word ‘dollars’ is optional.

  • We’ll save thousands of dollars by going with this client.
  • I have spent thousands of hours on this project! 

Instead of ‘tens of thousands,’ a native English speaker will usually just say ‘thousands.’

‘Several thousand’ has the same meaning, but “dollars” is not optional.

  • We spent several thousand dollars on advertising this year.

‘Hundreds of thousands’ is used for larger numbers.

  • We’re hundreds of thousands away from our goal.
  • They’re hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

We often replace with ‘several’ and in this case “dollars” is not optional.

  • We’re several hundred thousand dollars away from our goal.

#2: Millions

‘Millions’ is used for multiple millions below 100 million.

  • The contract is worth millions.
  • Their budget is millions of dollars.

We don’t say ‘tens of millions’ in English.

Instead, we just say ‘millions’ or ‘hundreds of millions.’

  • The contract is for hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Their client has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in real estate.

For all of these, you can use ‘several.’

  • The contract is for several hundred million dollars.


Lindsay and Aubrey share a roleplay using these large numbers.

In this roleplay, they are accountants discussing an audit they’re performing.

Lindsay: These numbers aren’t adding up. They’re off by millions!

Aubrey: Oh wow! Could be worse I guess. At least they’re not off by hundreds of millions.

Lindsay: True. Let’s go through and see where they’re off.

Aubrey: It looks like the wrong number was inputted for sales in 2022. It’s off by several hundred thousand.


Numbers can be extremely confusing when learning a new language!

You may need to describe large numbers or large amounts of money on IELTS.

These will especially be necessary for Academic Task 1 describing charts and graphs.

These tips will help you know how to use them with confidence!

For all the strategies you need, sign up for our online IELTS course!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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