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Talking About Money in American English

Money is defined as that which is accepted as legal payment for goods, services, and debts. In the United States of America, money comes in two forms: paper bills and metal coins. Checks, credit cards, and debit cards may also be used to transfer money from one person or institution to another. The following ESL lesson teaches English language learners the vocabulary and phrase patterns needed to correctly talk about money in American English.

Money Vocabulary

Before being about to talk about money in American English, ESL students must learn the necessary vocabulary. The most important or frequent English money vocabulary is as follows:

  • dollar – the standard unit of currency in the United States of America, worth one hundred cents
  • cent – unit of currency meaning one-hundredth of a dollar
  • quarter – coin worth twenty-five cents or one-fourth of a dollar
  • dime – coin worth ten cents or one-tenth of a dollar
  • nickel – coin worth five cents or one-twentieth of a dollar
  • penny – coin worth one cent or one-hundredth of a dollar
  • bill – term for any paper currency (one dollar bill, two dollar bill, five dollar bill, twenty dollar bill, fifty dollar bill, hundred dollar  bill)
  • coin – term for money made from metal, usually a circular disc stamped with an official emblem
  • cash – money in paper bill, but also sometimes change, form
  • change – money in coin form
  • buck – colloquial term for dollar
  • check – written note on a printed form that instructs a bank to pay the check bearer a certain amount out of the account of the check writer
  • credit card – card issued by an organization authorizing a named person to draw on its account or to make purchases on credit
  • debit card – card issued by an organization giving the holder access to an account via an appropriate computer terminal in order to authorize the transfer of funds to the account of another party when making a purchase

Counting Money

After learning the vocabulary words for money, English language learners must learn how to count money. (Note that students must also be familiar with numbers in English.) The first pattern for counting money in American English is “X dollar(s)/buck(s) and X cent(s).” For example:

  • one cent – $0.01 or 1¢
  • thirty-three cents – $0.33 or 33¢
  • one dollar – $1.00
  • three bucks – $3.00
  • five dollars – $5.00
  • one dollar and one cent – $1.01
  • one dollar and twenty-five cents – $1.25
  • six dollars and one cent – $6.01
  • twelve dollars and ninety-nine cents – $12.99
  • one hundred dollars – $100.00
  • seven hundred bucks – $700.00

The second pattern for counting money in American English is “[dollar(s)] [cent(s)].” For example:

  • one ninety-nine – $1.99
  • two twenty-five – $2.25
  • five oh four – $5.04
  • twenty-nine fifty-four – $29.54

The third pattern for counting money in American English is “a dollar [cent(s)]” or “a buck [cent(s)]” and applies to amounts in which the dollar value is one. For example:

  • a dollar nine – $1.09
  • a dollar forty-four – $1.44
  • a buck sixty-five – $1.65

After learning the words and phrases for money in American English, ESL students can practice their new skills by talking about how much different things cost as well as by using their new vocabulary in the real world. Learning to talk about money in English is essential for all English language learners to be able to correctly and effectively communicate with American English.

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