Khmer Language: by the numbers
Updated: Aug 11
Numbers are universally useful language assets and while the numbering system is not overly complicated in Khmer language there are nuances to understand
From directing transport to street numbers in Phnom, and negotiating transactions, knowing how numbers work and are expressed in Khmer language is useful for all visitors. Khmer numbering is not overly complicated, but there are a few distinguishing rules that must be understood to establish the framework.
1. Numbers in Khmer language
Cambodian people typically use numbers in everyday dialogue to discuss all manner of topics and - noting that there are a few nuances in comparison to the 'normal' decimal system- it is useful to learn about numbers at an early stage of learning some Khmer language.
About numbers in fives
The good news when it comes to Cambodian numbering is that numbers over 10 follow the typical decimal system (10, 20, 30 etc.). However, lower numbers follow a 1-5 pattern, so for example instead of the a unique word for the number 'six' in Khmer language the number is spoken as 'five-one' ('pram-moy'), and instead of using a unique word for the number 'nine' this is spoken as 'five-four' ('pram-buen').
Numbers from 0 to 99
Below are the numbers from 0 to 99 in Khmer language. From 10 onwards numbers ending other than in a zero are expressed by adding the words for the relevant number between 1 - 9 to the word for the preceding number from 10 - 90; for example, 53 is expressed as 'hasep-bei' (fifty-three), and 99 is expressed as 'kausep-pram-buen' (ninety-five-four):
(11 - 19)
(10 - 90
A note on the pronunciation of numbers in Khmer Language
It is a challenge to imitate Khmer pronunciation in writing using the Latin alphabet (because - for example - English uses 6 distinct vowels and Khmer has 33), and it is worth practicing the pronunciation of numbers with a Khmer speaker before attempting a 'live' conversation.
2. Numbers from 100 to 9,999
Numbers in the hundreds and thousands (below 10,000) follow a similar pattern, for example 'seven hundred' in Khmer is spoke as 'five-two hundred'. The words for 'hundred' and 'thousand' in Khmer language are 'roy' and 'poan' respectively, where 100 is 'moy-roy' and 1,000 is 'moy-poan':
Number (100 - 900)
Number (1,000 - 9K)
For example: 1,111 is expressed as 'moy-poan, moy-roy, dob-moy' (one thousand, one hundred, [and] eleven (eleven being expressed as 'ten-one' in Khmer), and 8,526 is expressed as 'pram-bei-poam, pram-roy, mo-pei-pram-moy' (eight thousand, five hundred, [and] twenty six).
As in the above examples, the word for 'and' ('neng') is not used when expressing longer numbers in Khmer language.
3. Numbers between ten thousand and one million
When talking about money in Cambodia currency, talking about numbers in 10,000s and 100,000s is common place, bearing in mind that 10,000 riel is equivalent to c.US$ 2.50. In Khmer language, there are specific words for units of 10,000 ('mern'), and for denominations of 100,000 ('saen'), which need to be used to be understood when relating these numbers in Khmer language, so for example 30,000 is bei-mern, and not sam-sep-poam.
Number - 10k - 90k
Number - 100k - 1m
moy-lien / ma-lien
Numbers in the millions follow a similar pattern, for example 1 million is 'ma-lien', and 2,301,005 is 'pi-lien, bei saen moy-poan, pram (2 million, 3 hundred [and] one thousand, [and] five.
4. Years and months in numbers in Khmer language
Although the religion Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist the Gregorian calendar is used and not the Buddhist calendar, so for example the year 2022 is 2022 in Cambodia, and not - as it is officially in Thailand - the year 2566 (for everyday purposes).
When talking about years the full number of the year needs to be given to be understood in Khmer language, and the number not broken down into a pair of double digits: for example: 1977 is 'moy-poam, pram-buen-roy, jet-seb-pram-pi' (one thousand, nine hundred, [and] seventy seven, and not 'nineteen, seventy-seven', and on the same basis 2022 is 'pi-poan, mo-pei-pi' (two thousand, [and] twenty-two) and not 'twenty, twenty-two'.
The Khmer word for year is 'chnam' and it is important that this word is said before the number to indicate it is a date year, and not after the number which would indicate a period of time in years; for example:
Chnam 2022 = the year 2022
2,022 Chnam = 2,022 years as an expression of a period of time
While the 12 months of the year do have specific names in Khmer language, usefully months are commonly expressed as a number. The Khmer word for month is 'kaite', so 'kaite-pram' is May (month five) and 'kaite dob-pi' is December (month twelve).
Again, it is important that the word for month 'kaite' is said before the numbe rto indicate a month; for example 'kaite pram' indicates the month of May, wheras 'pram kaite' means 5 months as a period of time.
Summary of months and years in Khmer language
Year / 2022
Month / 5 months
5. Taking or giving a phone number in Khmer
Trying to provide a phone number in Khmer language using single digits is likely to get no further than a quizzical look, and to be understood it is necessary to break the number down into threes. For example:
T. (0)95 321 1234 = (soun) buenpram-roy-hasepbei, pi-roy-dobmoy, pi-roy-samsebbuen
[ buenpram-roy-hasepbei, pi-roy-dobmoy, pi-roy-samsebbuen ] [ (nine hundred and fifty three) (two hundred and eleven) (two hundred and thirty-four) ]
Practicing with one number to learn it by wrote begin with is a good start on the journey to being able to understand long numbers that are later related in a live conversation.
6. Summary of numbers in Khmer language
The table below can be used to work out any number between 1 and 1,000,000 - for example: 21 is 'mophei-moy', and 873 is 'pram-bei-roy, jetseb-bei'.
0 - 9
10 - 90
100 - 1,000,000
7. About money
An understanding of the language around numbers naturally leads into conversations about money (or 'loy' in Khmer language), and information on how money works in Cambodia can be found here.