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I'm reading some business documents that have been handwritten in German. Where I expect to see the number 596000 the record shows 596,0 and where I expect to see the number 34800 the record shows 34,8000. Can someone please explain to me if there is a standard method for recording large numbers in German so that I can check if these figures are correct?

Thank you

Stephen

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    Hard to answer without the real document, but a suggestion: Bankers and similar professions sometimes express numbers as multitudes of 1000, marked by writing "T€" if a unit is given. This would fit with your first example, but not the second. Perhaps you should check calculations again. – Stephie Sep 14 '15 at 11:27
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    34,8000 looks like a value from an Excel document where the required minimum precision has been hard-wired into the cell's formatter. There's no basic rule from Standard German for that. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 14 '15 at 12:07
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    Oh one thing you might or might not be aware of: German swaps , and . in numbers, when compared to English. EDIT Hold on, I just realized that's what you're asking.. I'll turn that one into an answer for you. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 14 '15 at 12:09
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    @hiergiltdiestfu I thought so too at first, but then noted that OP expects 596000 but gets 596,0. Unless the writer just copied from some excel sheet, a native German would note 596.000 - with '.' – Stephie Sep 14 '15 at 12:18
  • @Stephi I took the liberty of incorporating the T€ aspect you mentioned into my answer. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 14 '15 at 12:21
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The rules for recording large numbers are not much different from English. The main difference to English is that in German, , and . are swapped. The comma is used as a decimal point, and the dot is used for grouping thousands (optionally, can be the empty string or a blank as well).

Examples

  • 123456789
    • German: 123.456.789
      • alternatives: 123 456 789 (or just 123456789, if you want to annoy your readers)
    • (English: 123,456,789)
  • Pi
    • German: 3,1415926...
    • (English: 3.1415926...)
  • 123456789+Pi
    • German: 123.456.792,1415926...
    • (English: 123,456,792.1415926...)

Your examples

Like Stephi said in a comment, the "569,0" could be an implicit abbreviation where a bank person is talking about Thousands or Millions of currency and just drops the tiresome zeros. I'd expect a small annotation somewhere which explains the abbreviation "scale", like "569,01 ... (footnote: 1: in Tausend Euro)".

The 34,8000 only makes sense in a context where a minimum decimal precision is mandatory. But I've never encountered that in hand-writing. This is something usually done in Excel sheets only.

So in summary, the numbers in your document either conform to some house rules (ie. a common notation used by the relevant industry), or they just lack some context, like the footnotes I mentioned, but they are not something I'd consider standard notation.

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    Regarding the alternative thousand separators mentioned: a) The "if you want to annoy your readers" part should be understood as referring to the no-separator case only (though for up to five or six digits, it should be OK). b) Regular spaces are not acceptable, you must use thin spaces. Then I'd say this is actually the preferred form in modern typography, though perhaps not in financial documents. – chirlu Sep 14 '15 at 14:00
  • @chrilu Thanks, I improved my post according to your comment. I guess instead of thinsp, the no-break variant should be used, but this is even more cumbersome in non-typesetting settings, since it doesn't appear to have a named html entity. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 14 '15 at 14:04
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    Note that, according to ISO, DIN, BIPM (i.e. for the use with SI units), and Duden, the groups shall be separated by a small space and not by a point or a comma or by any other means. – Loong Sep 14 '15 at 14:12
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    @Loong: This is correct, but using dots is common practice nonetheless. – luator Sep 14 '15 at 15:43
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    @StephenfromScotland, you are very welcome. If you feel inclined to do so, you can choose to accept one of the answers you received by clicking the green checkmark next to it. The help center has more details about what that means: german.stackexchange.com/help/accepted-answer And if you ever find out about the 34,8000, I'd appreciate it if you could add the solution to that particular mystery in a comment. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 15 '15 at 11:53
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You should know, that there are more countries where the comma is a decimal separator than there are point-separator-countries. The international standard since about 100 years is to use a point as decimal separator (before that time the comma was the international decimal separator).

map of the world showing where which decimal separator is used

blue: decimal separator is a point (pi = 3.14)
green: decimal separator is a comma (pi = 3,14)
red: decimal separator is a momayyez (pi = 3٫14)
other colors: two or all three of the above standards are in use

In Countries where the comma is not used as decimal separator (not-green countries in the picture), it is used as list-separator, for example when you want to list the elements of a set. This is also the international standard:

set = {Apple, Zwetschke, 42, -47.6, ☼☂☁︎}

In countries where the decimal-separator is a comma (green countries), the semicolon is used als list-separator:

set = {Apple; Zwetschke; 42; -47,6; ☼☂☁︎}

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    Thank you for teaching me about momayyez! Never heard about that before. – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 14 '15 at 17:38
  • I am not sure about your "international standard". I believe both period and comma may be used in international documents, but if you really had to decide on a single character, it would be the comma. The Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (International Office of Weights and Measures) states that "le symbole du séparateur décimal pourra être le point sur la ligne ou la virgule sur la ligne", giving equal weight to both periods and commas. – Ingmar Sep 15 '15 at 5:51
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    Good point about list separators. This becomes a problem when exchanging CSV-format (comma-separated values - though for Excel in an English locale it's actually semicolon-separated) tables between PCs with different locales. For integer-only data this should be easy, but it isn't always. This problem often occurs in Germany, where servers often have American settings (as the international default), but end user PCs are always set to German. – user2183 Sep 15 '15 at 6:59
  • Thank you for your very quick and detailed response, the 596,0 I'm ok with, but I think I'll need to seek clarity on the 34,8000 from the company themselves. It does look like an error, but I see it consistently across many documents and that is why I was wondering if there was some standard approach that I wasn't aware of. Thanks again, Stephen – Stephen from Scotland Sep 15 '15 at 11:40
  • @StephenfromScotland: 34,8000 is thirty-four comma/point eight zero zero zero. – Hubert Schölnast Sep 15 '15 at 20:39
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My guess is that the number was entered in the German format: 34.800 (the '.' is a '000s separator). At some point, this is parsed assuming US format which takes the '.' to be a decimal separator. At a later point this is then displayed using the German format resulting in the 34,800. A similar explanation can be applied to 596.000 and 596,0.

Oh the hours I've wasted on these kinds of problems!

  • Thank you for your very quick and detailed response, the 596,0 I'm ok with, but I think I'll need to seek clarity on the 34,8000 from the company themselves. It does look like an error, but I see it consistently across many documents and that is why I was wondering if there was some standard approach that I wasn't aware of. Thanks again, Stephen – Stephen from Scotland Sep 15 '15 at 11:40
  • Paul, I'm sorry but you misread the question. It's about a handwritten document :) – hiergiltdiestfu Sep 15 '15 at 11:46
  • @hiergiltdiestfu - blush sorry. – paul Sep 16 '15 at 5:04

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