The Grammarphobia Blog

Eurocentric English

Q: If I were to ask one of my Irish relatives how much is left over after spending half a euro, they would reply “50 cent” while I (an American) would say “50 cents.” I would appreciate any enlightenment you could provide.

A: This usage does indeed sound odd to an American. We would use the conventional English plural and say the euro has 100 cents, or two euros have 200 cents.

However, your Irish relatives can justify using “cent” and “euro” as plurals. They could also justify adding “s” and using “cents” and “euros.” Here’s the story.

It all depends on which official European Commission document you consult.

For example, the commission has standardized the way these monetary units are referred to in legislation from country to country.

This is explained in a document entitled “Spelling of the Words ‘Euro’ and ‘Cent’ in Official Community Languages as Used in Community Legislative Acts.”

The column devoted to English gives the singulars as “euro” and “cent” and the plurals as “euro” and “cent.”

A footnote for each plural says: “This spelling without an ‘s’ may be seen as departing from usual English practice for currencies.”

But another official manual, “English Style Guide: A Handbook for Authors and Translators in the European Commission,” says otherwise.

The handbook, published by the European Commission Directorate-General for Translation, has this to say:

“Like ‘pound,’ ‘dollar’ or any other currency name in English, the word ‘euro’ is written in lower case with no initial capital. Where appropriate, it takes the plural ‘s’ (as does ‘cent’): This book costs ten euros and fifty cents.”

Why have one standard for legislation and another for ordinary usage? Maybe you can figure it out; we can’t.

In fact, the legislative standard isn’t even consistent. Singulars and plurals change in some languages, including Spanish and French, while they stay the same in others, including German and Italian.

As of January, 17 countries have adopted the euro, including Ireland. The UK, which includes Northern Ireland, has “agreed an ‘opt-out’ clause in the Treaty” that exempts it from participation, the European Commission says.

The euro symbol looks like a capital “C” with  two horizontal strokes through it, and was inspired  by the Greek letter epsilon.

The European Commission says that “on many computers the euro symbol can be obtained with the <ctrl>+<alt>+e keystrokes.” (Doesn’t work in our email program, though.)

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