How-To Geek

How Big Is a Billion? [Video]

A billion is a billion except, when it isn’t. Depending on where and when you were raised and educated, the world “billion” is some magnitudes different–read on to see the difference between a billion in long and short number systems.

[via Geeks Are Sexy]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/31/12

Comments (17)

  1. Tomas

    We uses the long system in Sweden, and it’s a little annoying because when I speak English, it takes like half a second to translate between the systems in my head.

    For example: Billion is “Miljard” in Swedish, compared to Milliard in English long system. A trillion is then a “Biljon” and a quadrillion is a “Biljard” (Billiard).

  2. Alendra

    Damn, always wondered about that !

    We also use the long system in France, million, milliard, billion, etc … :)

    Seems like English people just can’t do the same as everyone else :D
    Just look at their measurement system, y’know ounces, feet,yards, miles, etc., when the rest of the world uses … meters :)

    Damn you English people ! ;)

  3. Alendra


    I meant “inches” instead of “ounces” ;)

  4. MKNZ

    The short system makes it a hell of a lot easier to imagine numbers as it keeps the suffix the same and counts in sets of 3 zeros instead of 6

  5. Harry

    It’s just the UK government slavishly following whatever nonsense the US comes up with. They got it wrong (as usual) and we have to follow. btw we have long ago adopted metric units for almost everything except road signs; we still use miles.
    Long system ftw.

  6. Master Mind

    yep americans are the ones who pull the entire planet back

    I mean they’re not the big power of earth. It’s china and japan. both of them uses SI units for world’s sake

  7. O.n

    Also in Israel we use long system.

    but in the news I always hear: trilion for 1000 * miliard (billion)
    so above miliard (billion) it is going to short system

  8. keith

    Speaking as a well-educated American, I must admit that I had no idea about the long system. Through my scientific training, I came to love the metric system and have often wondered why English-speaking countries that still use inches have not been quicker to adapt. President Carter tried, unsuccessfully, to petition the US Congress for a switch to the metric system. Unfortunately, no other president since has picked up that torch.

    I’m going to start using milliard around my friends just to frak with them. Of course, I’ll offer the educational bits afterward.

    Great video! :)

  9. aj

    Math supposed to be an exact science.
    It must not leave a room for a philosophical interpretation!

    One thousand millions = 1,000,000,000

  10. Someone

    Canadian here, and yes, we do use both short and long system.

  11. rabidwolff

    Never heard of the long form until now. I always just thought of billion as 1000 with 2 sets of 000’s, trillion as 1000 with 3 sets of 000’s to it and so forth so it just made sense to me.

  12. Joe Potter

    I live in Australia and remember our amusement when we saw our first shipment (in a bank) of our new decimal currency. It was so brightly coloured that “Monoploy Money” sprang to mind.

    That was the planned start in 1966 of our moving completely to the decimal (metric) system, which was completed fairly quickly. However, some 15 years later while working in broad-acre farming areas, despite being fully fluent in the new system most farmers preferred to speak of their land holdings and crop yields in the old terms. That did give bigger numbers for area, but I believe they could visualise what was being described far more vividly in traditional rerms.

    Joe 2June2012

  13. slomem

    I guess us Americans have to concede. We held the planet back. We went to the moon 40 (forty) years ago and we are still waiting for the rest of the world to cross an ocean. What is a Country to do ?

  14. Nate Schulz

    I do like the niceness of the long system; it has always bothered me that our prefixes make no sense. But it’s in the same way that I like the metric system. Logically, it makes more sense, but I’m so used to what we use here in the US that I don’t think I’d ever be able to transition to knowing the more logical systems as fluidly. It would make our nation’s debt seem awfully small, for one.

  15. Dabheid

    Very educational, thanks for this.

    also @ slomem – pretty sure the rest of the world will do fine at their own pace WITHOUT needing to try and catch up to the U.S.. It’s a proven fact that the U.S. is not the ‘be all and end all’ of the world.

  16. Joseph

    The long system does make plenty of sense. But the thing with changing the suffix and is just no. Just no. Billiard? You tell me that and I’ll picture pool tables and cue balls. Not numbers. But, it would be hard for the US switch over to the long system. Everything would be screwed over, the Education system would be even more flawed, no one would understand how big the debt is if we did so.

    And I’m sorry the US doesn’t move quickly enough. Congress is full of shit, and it bogs everything down. And the general population blames the President rather than the real cause of the problem, which is Congress: the opposite of progress.

  17. Patrick

    Ok lets get it right.Alendra in France can’t spell metres? strange. England on the 6th August 1897 was when Parliament passed the Metric system act to use metric weights measures in trade.The Imperial System however remained legal. The Metric system was imposed on Canada in 1970. However we still use Imperial measurements mixed with metric since we do most of our trade with the USA. Don’t ever change America! The US measure differ somewhat from the Imperial system..the short ton, 16 oz pint, can anyone tell me why the US fluid oz is 4% larger than the Imperial? I can easily do either system but I prefer Imperial the other one belongs in the lab..

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