Home > Science > Big big BIG numbers: googols, centillions and googolplexes

Big big BIG numbers: googols, centillions and googolplexes

Numbers numbers numbers...“I love you one hundred million times” – says my 3-year-old daughter to me.

“(lol) Well I love you 20 thousand trillion times more!” – Me back to daughter whilst thinking, ‘well what is after a trillion anyway? Hmm..’

I know the below stuff is on Wikipedia (which is where I got it all from) but I’m guessing not many people have actually thought to (or bothered to?) learn what comes after a million – billion – trillion – etc etc.

So in true QI fashion let us ponder this ‘quite interesting’ stuff and go through the names of some stupidly-massively-huge numbers. All in the name of learning something new that you may not have ever thought to before!

Names of large numbers

The first thing to realise is that the UK and the US have got a different naming system to continental Europe (not sure what places like Canada and Australia do – probably the same as the UK/US I’d imagine). So for example in Europe they call 1,000,000,000 a Milliard, whereas in the UK/US we call it a Billion. Their Billion which follows that is our Trillion, and so on).

  • I’ll just stick to the UK/US naming convention.
  • The Short Scale depicts how many 0’s there are after a 1, – so for example 1 Million is 1,000,000 (or 106).
  • In practice the below terms aren’t really used. Instead it is simply read out “ten to the forty-fifth” which is just as easy to say, easier to understand, and less ambiguous than “quattuordecillion” (which can also mean something different in the long scale and the short scale anyway!).
Name (UK/US naming) Short scale
Million 106
Billion 109
Trillion 1012
Quadrillion 1015
Quintillion 1018
Sextillion 1021
Septillion 1024
Octillion 1027
Nonillion 1030
Decillion 1033
Undecillion 1036
Duodecillion 1039
Tredecillion 1042
Quattuordecillion 1045
Quindecillion (Quinquadecillion) 1048
Sexdecillion (Sedecillion) 1051
Septendecillion 1054
Octodecillion 1057
Novemdecillion (Novendecillion) 1060
Vigintillion 1063
Centillion 10303

So you see it’s actually fairly simple and goes up Bi-, Tri-, Quad-, Quin-, etc etc. All latin-based words. On this University of North Carolina webpage they discuss another Greek-based naming system, though this is highly unlikely to ever be adopted!

So what of the bigger numbers?

  • A Googol is 10100 (which Google famously takes it’s name from via a misspelling).
  • A Googolplex is 10Googol (which a chap called Carl Sagan estimated that writing out in standard form (i.e., “10,000,000,000…”) would be physically impossible, since doing so would require more space than the known universe provides!).
  • Nothing however is as large as Infinty, which is a nice catch-all really for ‘one more than you’.

Further links

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  1. Casey Raz
    27 December 2013 at 6:20 pm

    A googol (10^100) looks like: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

  2. Casey Raz
    27 December 2013 at 6:28 pm

    That picture is the digits of pi. I recognize the 306647 and the 462294895493 from 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196. So that picture of numbers is pi. 😮

  3. Ella
    6 May 2016 at 5:00 am

    I find it rather strange that most people don’t know what’s past trillion or quadrillion.

    On the other hand, I was able to write up to the nontillions when I was in primary school, and I can write (and say) all the way through the decillions, vigintillion, trigintillions, quadragillions and centillions now, and I’m still in high school.

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