View Full Version : Why do Americans use commas instead of decimal points?

01-05-2003, 08:08 PM
Europe has it the other way. Is it a convention that has been changed and, like the Fahrenheit scale, the U.S. is stuck in the dark ages?

01-05-2003, 08:12 PM
Could you post an example? I don't know anyone that uses a comma in place of a decimal point unless it's a typo.

01-05-2003, 08:15 PM
American: 120,00 one hundred and twenty thousand

European: 120.000 one hundred and twenty thousand

01-05-2003, 08:15 PM
Could you provide an example? Could you be confusing something like 4,321 (four thousand, three thousand twenty one) with 4.321 (four and three hundred twenty one thousanths). I have never seen a comma used as a decimal point except for some early software programs that would not allow anything after a period.

El Zagna
01-05-2003, 08:15 PM
The convention in America is 12,345.67 while other places it's 12.345,67. (Man, that looks wierd. Do I have that right?)

01-05-2003, 08:16 PM

American: 0.23 twenty-three hundredths

European: 0,23 twenty-three hundredths

C K Dexter Haven
01-05-2003, 08:24 PM
<< American: 0.23 twenty-three hundredths

European: 0,23 twenty-three hundredths >>

I believe that's continental European, and the notation is not consistent. The Swiss (IIRC) use 1'000'000 for a million, for instance, where the French use 1.000.000 and the Americans and British use 1,000,000.

01-05-2003, 08:26 PM
Just as I thought, you are confused. A comma when used when there are 4 or more digits is correct and proper. I would consider 120.000 as one hundred twenty point zero zero zero. An example here (http://www.studyspanish.com/lessons/cardnum3.htm) swaps the decimal point and comma when used in Spanish numbers. Probably because it is all I have ever used, I find the American method much simpler and easy to use.

And your American example should be 120,000. There is always 3 digits after the comma.

Hail Ants
01-05-2003, 08:28 PM
Not to start another F vs. C debate, but I find our (the American) system more logical. The comma is used to separate groups of things (ones, tens, hundreds) while the period is used to demarcate the end of whole numbers and the start of fractional numbers.

IOW, just like in writing words the comma doesn't actually change the meaning (1000000 is still undeniably one million) but the period/decimal point does.

Hail Ants
01-05-2003, 08:30 PM
The comma is used to separate groups of things (ones, tens, hundreds)That is, it separates thousands, millions, billions etc. into groups of ones, tens & hundreds.

01-05-2003, 08:32 PM
The Swiss (IIRC) use 1'000'000 for a million, for instance

Even morecomplicated than I thought?

And your American example should be 120,000. There is always 3 digits after the comma.

Right. Sorry.

Not to start another F vs. C debate, but I find our (the American) system more logical. The comma is used to separate groups of things (ones, tens, hundreds) while the period is used to demarcate the end of whole numbers and the start of fractional numbers.

Ah, but the question is which is the original.

01-05-2003, 08:39 PM
The Swiss (IIRC) use 1'000'000 for a million

From a Swiss web site ( http://www.standortschweiz.ch/seco/internet/en/finance/financial_aspects/labor_costs/index.html ), I've found that they use the American system.

BTW, how do you put in a link so that you have to click on a word and not the exact title (internet address) of the link?

01-05-2003, 08:42 PM
url="the url"the words you want/url

With the brackets in the appropriate places of course.

01-05-2003, 08:45 PM

But how would I get the word that appears in the post in there?
Wouldn't this just classify the word as a link rather than plain text?

01-05-2003, 08:46 PM
BTW, how do you put in a link so that you have to click on a word and not the exact title (internet address) of the link?

Like this -- with, of course, spaces intruded between the brackets and the code that should immediately follow or precede them, so that it will display as an example and not automatically encode:

[ url="http://www.chefdecuisine.com/salads/TOMATO-CORN%20PASTA%20SALAD.asp" ]recipe for tomato-corn-pasta salad [ /url ]

will display as recipe for tomato-corn-pasta salad (http://www.chefdecuisine.com/salads/TOMATO-CORN%20PASTA%20SALAD.asp)

01-05-2003, 08:51 PM
Oh, now I see (http://www.ross.com/productHandbook/personalCare/clearEyes.asp)

01-05-2003, 08:58 PM
Originally posted by sleeping
Ah, but the question is which is the original. Hard to say. Napier, inventor of the decimal notation we now use, originally used a comma, but later switched to a point. So really both came from the same guy at about the same time.

01-05-2003, 09:12 PM
European numbering usually uses spaces instead of commas - not periods. For instance, the American


would be, in France or any of a great many metric countries,

1 654 783,09

In Canadian English, especially newspapers for some reason, you often see a mixed system of using spaces and the decimal point:

1 654 783.09

Confusing, to my eyes.

01-05-2003, 09:20 PM
France or any of a great many metric countries,1 654 783,09

Well, the spacing is more correct for scientific purposes, but still, what about the original two?

Speaker for the Dead
01-05-2003, 09:46 PM
Er, I live in Canada and I've always used (for example) 1,234,567.89 or even just 1234567.89

01-05-2003, 09:56 PM
I took math in French here in Ontario, Canada (French Immersion). I remember learning to use spaces and commas, like so:

1 048 576,75

That's one million, forty-eight thousand, five hundred and seventy six, and seventy-five one-hundredths.

Always seemed like a much better system than the English Canadian/United States system.

Of course, got just a little pissed when my prof in college knocked off ten percent for using spaces instead of commas as thousands separators.

01-05-2003, 09:57 PM
For what it's worth, all the number formats defined for various locales installed with the Sun 1.4 java SDK produce four basic formats, which have already been mentioned:

1.234.567,89 - Many European countries.
1,234,567.89 - The rest of the world not listed below.
1'234'567.89 - Switzerland
1 234 567,89 - Sweden, Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Russia, Poland, Norway, Latvia, Hungary, Luxembourg, France, Canada, Finland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Belarus

As well as not being able to format from the Indian locale intelligibly.

java apparently thinks you Canadians use spaces, whatever you yourself think.

01-05-2003, 10:10 PM
Oh, I should look closer:

The 1.234.567,89 is also prevalent in South America, and the space form is given as "Canada / French language", "Canada / English" uses the American form. And the UK / Ireland use the American form.

What the hell, here's the data:

1.234.567,89 Ukraine.Ukrainian, .Ukrainian, Turkey.Turkish, .Turkish, Albania.Albanian, .Albanian, Slovenia.Slovenian, .Slovenian, Yugoslavia.Serbo-Croatian, .Serbo-Croatian, Romania.Romanian, .Romanian, Portugal.Portuguese, Portugal.Portuguese, Brazil.Portuguese, .Portuguese, Netherlands.Dutch, Netherlands.Dutch, Belgium.Dutch, Belgium.Dutch, .Dutch, Macedonia.Macedonian, .Macedonian, Lithuania.Lithuanian, .Lithuanian, Italy.Italian, Italy.Italian, .Italian, Iceland.Icelandic, .Icelandic, Croatia.Croatian, .Croatian, Belgium.French, Belgium.French, Venezuela.Spanish, Uruguay.Spanish, Paraguay.Spanish, Peru.Spanish, Spain.Spanish, Spain.Spanish, Chile.Spanish, Argentina.Spanish, .Spanish, Greece.Greek, Greece.Greek, .Greek, Luxembourg.German, Luxembourg.German, Germany.German, Germany.German, Austria.German, Austria.German, .German, Denmark.Danish, .Danish, Spain.Catalan, Spain.Catalan, .Catalan
1,234,567.89 United States.English, .English, Taiwan.Chinese, Hong Kong.Chinese, China.Chinese, .Chinese, Thailand.Thai, .Thai, South Korea.Korean, .Korean, Japan.Japanese, .Japanese, Israel.Hebrew, .Hebrew, El Salvador.Spanish, Puerto Rico.Spanish, Panama.Spanish, Nicaragua.Spanish, Mexico.Spanish, Honduras.Spanish, Guatemala.Spanish, Ecuador.Spanish, Dominican Republic.Spanish, Costa Rica.Spanish, Colombia.Spanish, Bolivia.Spanish, South Africa.English, New Zealand.English, India.English, Ireland.English, Ireland.English, United Kingdom.English, Canada.English, Australia.English, Yemen.Arabic, Tunisia.Arabic, Syria.Arabic, Sudan.Arabic, Saudi Arabia.Arabic, Qatar.Arabic, Oman.Arabic, Morocco.Arabic, Libya.Arabic, Lebanon.Arabic, Kuwait.Arabic, Jordan.Arabic, Iraq.Arabic, Egypt.Arabic, Algeria.Arabic, Bahrain.Arabic, United Arab Emirates.Arabic, .Arabic
?,???,???.?? India.Hindi
1'234'567.89 Switzerland.Italian, Switzerland.French, Switzerland.German
1 234 567,89 Sweden.Swedish, .Swedish, Yugoslavia.Serbian, .Serbian, Slovakia.Slovak, .Slovak, Russia.Russian, .Russian, Poland.Polish, .Polish, Norway.Norwegian, Norway.Norwegian, .Norwegian, Latvia.Latvian (Lettish), .Latvian (Lettish), Hungary.Hungarian, .Hungarian, Luxembourg.French, Luxembourg.French, France.French, France.French, Canada.French, .French, Finland.Finnish, Finland.Finnish, .Finnish, Estonia.Estonian, .Estonian, Czech Republic.Czech, .Czech, Bulgaria.Bulgarian, .Bulgarian, Belarus.Byelorussian, .Byelorussian

The things like ".Bulgarian" are language specific locales with no country (for purposes of this discussion, I printed them out country first, followed by language. In fact a java locale is a language or a language+country).

01-05-2003, 10:15 PM
One more note - there are some apparent duplicates because I wasn't bother to print the "variant" which is an optional third piece of a java locale.

01-05-2003, 10:40 PM
FWIW, the Systeme Internationale (SI) system uses a decimal as the divider between whole numbers and fractions, and spaces to separate tens, hundreds, thousands and tenths, hundredths, thousandths, etc.

01-06-2003, 06:52 AM
Originally posted by sleeping
Europe has it the other way. Is it a convention that has been changed and, like the Fahrenheit scale, the U.S. is stuck in the dark ages?

Sheesh. Using a tiny, curly line instead of a dot constitues being stuck in the dark ages? I can make it out using a comma, space, or period.

As far as Farenheit goes, well, it's kind of a crappy standard, but it works for me. If it's 103 F I know it is hot, if it's 20F I know it's cold. Scientists use Celsius almost exclusively anyhow.

01-06-2003, 06:56 AM
In India, the pointing uses a group of three for the rightmost three places, the same as Europe ... but all the groups to the left of that are groups of two.

Like this:

They do it that way to reflect the structure of their number nomenclature. Each new group has a name after every two powers of ten (once you get larger than a thousand). The numbers in Sanskrit:

100 eka = one
101 dasa = ten
102 sata = hundred
103 sahasra = thousand
105 laksha = hundred thousand ("lakh")
107 koTi = ten million ("crore")
109 padma = billion

If you read the news from India, in English for an Indian audience, "million" is not in their vocabulary. They say "ten lakh" and write it 10,00,000.

01-06-2003, 07:33 AM
Jomo Mojo, I'm very impressed! How come you know so much of how we write numbers here in India?

FWIW, I prefer the system as used in the US.

China Guy
01-06-2003, 08:00 AM
Ha, you need some Chinese to really spice things up. 100,000 is written in characters to be 10 (10,000) and a million is one hundred ten-thousands. Kinda confusing since characters won't show up here but it goes ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, one hundred millions, and then higher than I can count. So, a billion is ten one-hundred-millions.

01-06-2003, 08:10 AM
Ah, number formats in various locales, one of the banes of my day job. Mid-2001 I had to tear apart and redo some software code to convert between the American comma-and-period format and generically any other format. (Particularly the European period-and-comma format, and the French space-and-comma format. I am so relieved we didn't address the Hindi format!)

Follow up to China Guy: At least Chinese has magnitude notation. Hebrew only goes up to 400, as I recall, and I don't know of any official way to represent thousands. IIRC, the current year (5763) is represented as: 400, 300, 60, apostrophe, 3. (Taf, shin, samech, '', gimel.) No indicator for the leading 5000.

Hari Seldon
01-06-2003, 08:20 AM
AFAIK, Canada has always used the American notation. But about 25 years ago, the secessionist government in Quebec made the French system mandatory in schools. (They also started using A4 paper in all the government documents, although no one had A4 trays for their photocopiers.) At any rate, all the students coming to McGill had to learn that pi was 3.141592... not 3,141592... and that a cup of coffee cost $1.50, not 1,50$. Talk about confusion. But no student ever lost marks from me for doing it "wrong". (There is no right or wrong; it is a purely arbitrary convention.)

Greg Charles
01-06-2003, 01:39 PM
It's all too confusing. Even Yabob's long list only mentions a fraction of the countries on Earth, and what about when we move into space? Once I gain supreme power, here are the standards I will enforce:

1. Periods are decimal points, commas are thousand separators.

2. Dates are YYYY-MM-DD, forcing compromise from everyone.

3. We use the metric system for everything, until genetic engineers allow us to grow an extra finger on each hand and we can migrate to the more convenient base 12 number system.

4. 220V power, with American-style safety plugs with ground. Oh, sure, this will lead to many people smoking their 110V appliances, but they'll get the hang of it eventually.

5. A4 paper. Actually, I need to research that a bit more, but my impression is it's more logical.

6. Up means on for light switches. I'll make a reluctant exception for three-way switches.

7. Water swirls counter-clockwise down the drain. (I did say supreme power.)

I'll probably think of others while I'm waiting for the power of enforcement to be granted me. It's been a long wait so far.

01-06-2003, 04:04 PM
My head hurts.

Pix xx

01-06-2003, 04:35 PM
Greg Charles, you have my vote.

1) Periods should be decimal points because the dot is called a point in many contexts.

If 2) everyone uses yyyymmdd, then the numbers also sort into chronological order.

3) Metric system for everything. Also, the Greek lowercase mu gets changed to English lowercase u (which it looks so much like anyway) so that the SI can be typed on any keyboard. And the kilogram gets replaced with a new mass unit called the Einstein, so the fundamental mass unit doesn't have "kilo" in it. And the abbreviation for "kilo" should be uppercase K so that all the larger-than-one multipliers are uppercase and the smaller-than-one multipliers are lowercase. And people that say "pound mass" are tied up and slugs (the little animals) are placed all over them.

4) Recepticals are installed so the ground pins are on the top, so bare wire that falls near a wall into the little gap hits ground first.

5) All paper sizes are adjusted a skosh so their aspect ratios are sqrt(2), and so 1 m is one of the sizes.

Thanks for caring.

01-06-2003, 07:35 PM
1) Periods should be decimal points because the dot is called a point in many contexts.

That argument would make sense if the countries where a decimal comma is used would call it a point when spelling a number. They don't.

13,95 (thirteeen point nine five, in the European notation)
= treize virgule neuf cinq (French)
= dreizehn komma neun fnf (German)

The different conventions aren't really a problem IMO. As long as you take care not to write decimal numbers the whole part of which is less than one thousand with exactly three digits after the decimal point/comma (i.e. eschew 13.950 in favour of 13.95 or 13.9500) the whole thing is wholly unambigous.

Most people only come across large numbers with decimal digits in the context of sums of money. The different notations are almost always unambigous (the only exception AFAIK are some Arab countries whose currency unit has a subunit which is a thousandth (see this (a bit dated) list) (http://pacific.commerce.ubc.ca/xr/currency_table.html))

01-06-2003, 10:19 PM
I think English-speaking Canada should use A-series paper as well... this site (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-paper.html) convinced me when I found out how all the sizes are proportional and you can enlarge and reduce very easily (and there's a easy-reduce function for A4 paper in the photocopier as well). And every piece of office equipment I've ever seen in my working life here in Toronto can handle A4 paper. But just try to find it in a store in Toronto. For example, the Staples (http://www.staples.ca/) website lists (http://www.staples.ca/products/search/departmental.asp?qu=A4+paper&Find.x=30&Find.y=9&dept_id=1420&show=text) it, but the Staples stores don't have it in stock. Hari Seldon, are you saying that A4 is often used in Quebec now?

My impression of the reasonong behind the SI format (1 234 567.89 or 1 234 567,89) is that, by forgoing any separator symbol in printed material, and instead using a half-space, you can use either a comma or a period as the radix ("decimal") point, and still represent it unambiguously. The radix point will be the only small symbol in the number.

This avoids situations like the following: you are in the States, and you get the number 1.254 in a memo from somewhere in Europe. You read it as "one point two five four" but the sender meant "one thousand two hundred fifty four". Not good if you're dealing with, say, drug concentrations...

Incidentally, the population signs outside Ontarian towns use the "space" format ("Whitby, population 74 000")

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