What are Numerators and Denominators?

Learn a quick tip to help you understand exactly what the numerator and denominator of a fraction tell you.

Jason Marshall, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #11

What Are Numerators and Denominators?

In the last article, we discovered that integers alone are not sufficient to fully describe the world around us—we need the fractions existing between the integers too. (In learning that, we also learned that fractions are not integers.) In fact, eventually we’re going to discover that even fractions won’t fully satisfy our needs! But we’ll leave that for a future article—there’s still much to learn about the fractional world first.

In particular, today we’re going to take a deeper look at fractions and learn a few quick tips to help you understand exactly what numerators and denominators tell you.

What Are Fractions?

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Before we get too far into the details of what the various parts of a fraction mean, let’s briefly review their anatomy. First, a fraction is made up of two integers—one on the top, and one on the bottom.

The top one is called the numerator, the bottom one is called the denominator, and these two numbers are separated by a line. The line can be horizontal or slanted—they both mean the same thing and simply serve to separate the numerator from the denominator.

How to Pronounce Fractions in English

If you’ve known about fractions for a while, it’s probably been some time since you’ve contemplated the names we use to describe them. But they aren’t exactly obvious, so it’s worth spending a minute or two thinking about them.

Here’s the quick and dirty tip to help you remember how to pronounce them all: The numerator is always spoken first, and you pronounce it exactly as you pronounce the number. For example, in 1/2 the numerator, 1, is just pronounced “one;” or in 45/77 the numerator, 45, is simply pronounced “forty-five.” Easy enough. But denominators are a bit trickier. They use the following convention: 

  • 2 is pronounced “half”

  • 3 is pronounced “third”

  • 4 is pronounced “fourth” (or “quarter”)

  • 5 is pronounced “fifth”

  • 6 is pronounced “sixth”

  • 7 is pronounced “seventh”

  • 8 is pronounced “eighth”

  • 9 is pronounced “ninth”

  • 10 is pronounced “tenth,” and so on.

So, for the fraction written 1/2, the denominator, 2, is pronounced “half,” and the entire fraction is therefore “one-half.” A little less obvious: For the fraction 45/77, the denominator, 77, is pronounced “seventy-seventh,” so the entire fraction is “forty-five seventy-sevenths.” An easy way to remember this is that with the exceptions of “half” and “quarter,” the words used to describe the denominator of a fraction are the same used to put things in order—for example, the order in which runners finish a race: “third,” “fourth,” “fifth,” etc.


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.

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