# Why eleven?

Why do we use the term “eleven” for this number-11? We have “twenty two”, “thirty three”, “forty four” and so on, so whatever happened to “onety one”?

The correct name is, of course, oneteen.

As for eleven, you can blame the Old English endleofon, meaning roughly “one left over” in the sense of a group of ten with one extra.

As another data point, German has distinct words for 1-12, then starts in with the “ten and three” etc.

Spanish has distinct words up to 15, then goes to dieciseis.

French starts the two-word thing at seventeen.

Why fourteen? It’s only the second number with teen in it, not the fourth.

French and Spanish do really start the two-word form at 11, it’s just been shortened considerably. Spanish swaps the order of the two words at 16, and French at 17.

e.g. 11 in spanish is once which is shortened from the Latin undecim which is just 1 + 10

The Japanese word for 11 is jū ichi (十一), which is literally “ten one”. The character is made up of the character for 10 (十) and the character for 1 (一). It’s the same for 12-19, the words and characters mean “ten two”, “ten three”, etc.

The question I think is why we have this mix of base ten with some base 12 (dozens, eleven, twelve) and base 60 (seconds, minutes) mixed in.

The answer I have heard which makes sense is that 12/60 is also a finger counting system, a pretty dang good one. Count the phalanges or knuckle of your fingers on one hand with your thumb and you get twelve; keep track of how many times you’ve done that with the fingers of your other hand five times and you’ve counted to 60 on your fingers.

I like 60. It has 10 factors.

Here is a recently-revived old thread on a related topic. It starts out pretty French-specific but quickly branches out to discuss lots of various number words in various languages.

Because it’s one louder.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who thought this on seeing the hed.

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.
Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Yeah, but this system goes to twelve.

I blame the Indo-Europeans.

Czarcasm, I suspect most people just use eleven out of habit but I think they would completely understand what you mean if you use onety-one.

Can you test it and let us know how it goes?

If this is a serious question, it’s because it’s four + ten, ergo, fourteen.

I think it’s because by that logic you’d have to say “Ten-ty One.” That sounds way too much like “Twenty One” and so simply would not catch on, so folks stuck to Friedo’s “Old English ‘endleofon’” for clarity.

Is “twelve” similarly “two left over”? It shares that core group of letters “elve”, and seems to have a “two” in front.

Yes, twelve comes from Proto-Germanic *twa-lif- meaning “two left”

You see how common words were by the terms that are specific, by the shortness of the words, etc. We have dozen, we have eleven, twelve; we have half, third, quarter - but beyond that we have fifth, sixth, etc. because those were less frequently used in common life experience in past centuries. Even illiterate and uneducated people had to deal with that sort of practical matter.

Dozen and the numbers up to it seem to be relatively common. Dozen was liked, was a common quantity because it could be divided into 2,3,4,6 when splitting it up, something that likely occurred a lot in life experience. (10 was a lot less useful that way).