In Spanish, Roman numerals are always used to talk about centuries.
Learn how to talk about centuries in Spanish
The word for "century" in Spanish is "siglo". When we mention a certain century in Spanish we always use Roman numerals.
Note that is this section we are going to refer to cardinal and ordinal numbers. Examples of cardinal numbers are uno, dos, tres / one, two, three, examples of ordinal numbers are primero, segundo, tercero / first, second, third. If you need a handy way to remember the difference, think about cardinal numbers being used for counting and ordinal numbers being used for order.
In Spanish the first 10 centuries can be ordinal or cardinal
Roman numerals are primarily used as ordinal numbers but the common practice is that the first 10 centuries can be read as either ordinal or cardinal numbers. Let's look at some xamples.
siglo I can be pronounced:
siglo I [primero]1st century
siglo VII can be pronounced:
siglo VII [siete]7th century
siglo VII [séptimo]7th century
siglo X can be pronounced:
siglo X [diez]10th century
siglo X [décimo]10th century
In Spanish, centuries above 10 are cardinal numbers
However from the 11th century onwards, the centuries are read as cardinal numbers, not ordinal numbers. Let's look at some examples.
siglo XI is pronounced:
siglo XI [once]11th century
not "siglo décimo primero"
siglo XV is pronounced:
siglo XV [quince]15th century
not "siglo décimo quinto"
siglo XXI is pronounced:
siglo XXI [veintiuno]21st century
not "siglo vigésimo primero".
Here are some examples in context:
Vivimos en el siglo XXI.We live in the 21st century.
La reina Victoria murió a principios del siglo XX, en 1901.Queen Victoria died at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1901.
En el siglo XIII los incas se instalaron en la región de Cusco, en Perú.In the 13th century the Incas settled in the region of Cusco, in Peru.
Para España, el siglo XV es muy significativo por la Reconquista.For Spain, the 15th century is very relevant because of the Reconquista.
Isaac Peral inventó el submarino en el siglo XIX.Isaac Peral invented the submarine in the 19th century.
La Alhambra se contruyó entre los siglos XIII y XV.The Alhambra was built between the 13th and the 15th century.
Using Roman Numerals
It's important to note that you must use Roman numerals to refer to centuries in Spanish. It is considered incorrect to write the century number in cardinal numbers using the Arabic numeric system (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc) or writing out the ordinal in letters (quince, dieciocho etc.). These examples are incorrect:
- Isaac Peral inventó el submarino en el siglo 15.
- Vivimos en el siglo 21.
- La reina Victoria murió a principios del siglo veinte, en 1901.
Also remember that the numeral goes after the word "siglo", not before. This is incorrect:
En el XXI siglo...
Using capital letters for the Roman numerals
The Real Academia Española recommends that when referring to centuries you should write the Roman numerals in small capitals. For example: "siglo xxi" instead of using the regular size capital letters: "siglo XXI". However, you will find that in very many situations Roman numerals are often written using normal capital letters as we have done throughout this lesson because regular upper case letters are easier to implement.
More information about Roman numerals
If you need a reminder on how Roman numerals work, or to read about other circumstances where Spanish uses Roman numerals, see:
How to use Roman numerals in Spanish
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