A Number

A Maths Starter Of The Day

The Letter A

When written as a word or words, what is the smallest positive whole number containing the
letter 'a'?

Topics: Starter | Vocabulary

  • Paul Boothroyd, Manor School and Sports College
  • Your answer for the smallest integer with the letter "a" in it is misleading or wrong.

    One Hundred And One ...
  • 8S3, Kettlethorpe High School
  • We also think that one hundred And one is smaller than one thousand
  • Bradley Clark, bradclark10@hotmail.com
  • We believe that one hundred and one is the smallest number with an a in it.
  • Mark, Manor School
  • I have always taught students that the and is only used for decimals. One hundred and one would be 100.1. 101 would be One hundred one. This would make 1000 the correct answer.
  • John and A2 maths, Milton Keynes
  • We think the answer is 8 because it has an "a" in it
  • Debs, Bognor Regis CC
  • My year 9 group also said "ate" (as did my teaching assistant.)As for One hundred AND one , the AND is a connective NOT a number. We had fun with this today and would like to see more literacy and maths starters especially since we have a lot of EAL students.
  • Mr. Mauceri, Aylesford School - Sports College, Kent, UK
  • If "and" is not allowed in one hundred "and" one then it should not be allowed in thous"and" either!
  • Mary, Qatar
  • How can you say the word thousand, without the "and" at the end, it doesn't make sense...... its part of the word, I think that both can be correct in this instance, using and is perfectly acceptable, its used world wide
  • Kirsty, 8B1
  • Kirsty says that it is a thousand because "and" isn't a number.
  • Paul Boothroyd, Whitehaven
  • Just returned to this problem, and noticed the "...a word...", I must have been persuaded by my class last year.
  • M. Flint and 7H, Hagley Park Sports College
  • We think it's 101 as 'and' is essential to the number when written down.
  • Mr Macarthur,
  • How about one and ten tenths?
  • Transum,
  • Here’s a variation on this theme:

    Teacher: “I challenge you all to see who can come up with the most words that don’t contain the letters A, B or C in 30 seconds. Go!”

    Students: “Sky… Pie … Moon … Lesson… etc” [They will typically come up with around 10 words in the 30 seconds]

    Teacher: “Now it’s my turn. Go! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen etc” [It will be very easy for the Teacher to beat the students]
  • Mr Bannister, Garforth Community College
  • How about two halves ?
  • Jonathan Stevens, UNBSJ
  • 101 Is "One Hundred One" There is no and... Common misconception... Therefore One Thousand is the correct answer.
  • Irene, Harrow, Beijing
  • A Hundred!
  • class 1P5, Holyrood Sec School Glasgow
  • We at Holyrood (mrs O'hagan's class),think this is a bit of a 'scam'..in otherwords a bit of a trick question! We like 'ate' but are divided between one thousand, and one hundred and one.
  • Craigdhu Primary, P6/7
  • We believe that one hundred and one is the correct answer since you asked for the word with 'a' in it.
  • 11n5, Sleaford
  • We've actually spent more time discussing everyone's comments rather than the answer. It was jolly good fun!
  • Mr Smith + whole lot of clever students in set 5., Derby
  • It got my class thinking!
    All was sure that it was: 'One hundred AND one'
    Very good starters to get you thinking and debate about!
  • Year 7, Vale of Catmose College, Oakham
  • Four in French, Quatre
  • Steve, Verdin High
  • The question says "word", not "words" therefore "thousand" must be the answer as "hundred and one" is three words.
  • Mr Crawshaw, St George's College, Sleaford
  • What about -(-1)
    "Negative, negative one"
  • Mr Mirza, Colne Park High School
  • Our answer was 'Thousand' as we felt one hundred and one connects one hundred with one which is not a value. We read 101 as one hundred one. Thanks
  • Mr Crawshaw, St George's College of Technology, Sleaford
  • A young Polish student came up with the answer "dwa", which is "two" in Polish.
    This got me thinking about the cross-curricular possibilities for nthis starter.
    In French, the answer is "quatre" (4), in German "acht" (8) and in Spanish "cuatro" (4).
    Which languages give the smallest positive answer?
    Bosnian and Croatian each have "jedan" for "one". In Czech, it's "jedna"
    Slovenian (ena), Indonesian (satu), Portuguese (uma) and Basque (bat) also have words for "one" with an "a" in them.
    Finnish (kaksi) and Swedish (twa) are like Polish, having an "a" in their word for "two".
    English seems to be the only language I could find with no such number until "thousand". The next highest was Danish, which did not have a number with an "a" in it until "atten" (18)
    I have more, but fear most lost interest long ago!!
  • St. Mary's Year 8, Cambridge
  • We think that it is One hundred And one. There were lots of posibilities like one thousAnd... we think And should be allowed because the number doesn't work without it!
  • Milo, BSM Muscat Oman
  • we think it is most definitely 8/'ate' and so did the rest of year 15
  • Class 6C, Tamworth
  • We think that a thousand is the most sensible answer.
  • Mr. Gauley, Gainesville Elementary School
  • One hundred and 0ne is not a correct statement. The "and" suggests a decimal point in the standard form of the number. At least that is what I have always taught my students.
  • Kristin Bare, Woodhill Elementary
  • And is not a number
    the proper way to say 101 is "one hundred one"
    the answer is a thousAnd.
  • Jordan Hollins, Uttoxeter
  • I think it is "A " because in algebra a stands for a number so A say it's A.
  • A Guess, A School
  • It can't be 101, because on google type in "101 in words" and it comes up with one hundred one, therefore its one thousand.
  • 8MaP3, Park Community School
  • This has produced much discussion and has provided valuable literacy input.
  • Mr Walker, Baxter College
  • SquAre root of one?
  • Mr Ireland, 5I Maths, Balsall Common
  • We had a raging debate in our class about which one was correct - 101 or 1000. We'll need to put it to the vote tomorrow I think!
  • Miss Look, 5th Grade Math Class
  • We believe the answer is one thousand. It can't be one hundrend and one, because and is NOT a number.
  • Chris Poole, SLSSC, Exeter
  • Googling "hundred and one" gave me 3,260,000 hits. Googling "hundred one" gave 340,000 hits. Which may be why there's a book and film called "[The] Hundred AND one Dalmations".
    You can argue the answer is 'thousand' because you asked for 'a word', not 'words', but it's a bit weird to say that AND isn't part of the number 'hundred and one'. It just is.
  • Mr Jones And 7V1, King Alfred's Wantage
  • We believe that it is 'One Thousand' as, although 'One Hundred and One' has an 'a' in it, the 'and' is not part of the number.
    Also in French it would be 4, or quatre.
  • 9g1, Priory School, Shrewsbury
  • We really don't think much of the question. We like more definite answers.
  • 7Y2, St Edmund Arrowsmith (wigan)
  • Half of our class think it is 101 and the other half think its 1000.
  • Emily,
  • It is a thousAnd because one hundred and one is a decimal and and is not a number.
  • Brenda, California
  • You can't count one hundred and one, because in math "and" represents a decimal and that would not be a whole number.
  • Mr Besgrove, Little Ilford School
  • One hundred and one is the correct answer... Year 7 Little Ilford School, London.
  • 1Q, Moffat Academy
  • We think 'quatre' is the answer!!
  • 7T, Dover
  • We think that it is THOUSAND. All the class seem(!) to agree.
  • 9A3, Honiton Devon
  • We think it has to be one thousand because 'and' is not a number.
  • Andrés, Colombia
  • Para mi que la respuseta es 4 (cuatro).
    for me the answer is 4.
    good by.
  • Teresa, Kentucky
  • It is one thousand because one hundred one does not have the word "and" in it. It is a math misconception to use the word "and".
  • Maria, Indiana
  • The number 101, correctly written is 'one hundred one'. there is not an 'and' so one thousand must be correct.
  • Andrea, Tokyo
  • In the UK, we generally say one hundred and one.
  • 9ma3, Attleborough High School
  • We had a vote and decided it should be thousand because when you write one hundred and one in numbers you do not wrtite the and.
  • Jon Chamberlain, Sty Peter And St Pauls Primary School
  • Would you write the letter 'A' when you write a thousand in numbers then?!?
    I would allow one hundred and 1 or a thousand I think! (Unless I tell my year 4 class that the word and doesn't count!).
  • Cifra, zero in Italian
    shunya, zero in Hindi
    wahid , one for Arabic.
  • Mr Sowler, 11-16
  • 101 is a whole number, it just happens to require a few words to say it. In the UK it is correct to say and write it as 'one hundred and one' and it would be incorrect to say or write it as 'one hundred one.' In the US it seems the opposite is true!
  • Miss Robson And Mr Field's Year 7 Class, The Hazeley Academy
  • We think that if "one hundred And one" is a correct answer, "A hundred" should also be correct, and smaller, therefore the correct answer.
  • Mr Shepherd, Chryston High School
  • We took a class vote and voted that one thousand should be the correct answer. One hundred and one was too much of a trick! ( even though Mr Shepherd thought it was one hundred and one!).
  • Charles Jennings, Year 5 International, SIS @ BDNC, Vietnam
  • We think it could be "A hundred."
    This is smaller than one hundred and one.
  • 9TK, Ramsden Hall School
  • It was tricky, but we say THOUSAND!!!
  • Team 24, Rio Real School, California
  • Team 24 voted that "and" is not a number so the answer is one thousand.
  • Y8 Reepham High,
  • edna is bulgarian for one.
  • Yr8, Quest Academy
  • We thought it might be one hundred and one but then we decided that because 'and' is a connector not a number is must be one thousand.
  • Diana Gillinder And Y6, Langton Green Y6
  • One Squared.
  • Davis, England
  • Did you know twenty-one thousand is the smallest number you can make using only three words.
  • Christopher Allan, Twitter @CDAXY
  • Hundred and one after which they all contain 'a' up to X (but what is X ?).
  • Transum,
  • 206 is the smallest number that when written in words contains all five vowels exactly once:

  • , J
  • Shunya? (zero in hindi) or 101.
  • CEDARS Short Stay School, Newcastle
  • We think the answer is One In Lithuanian (vienas).
  • Alex Bellos, The Guardian
  • The words ‘zero’ and ‘one’ share letters (‘e’ and ‘o’). The words ‘one’ and ‘two’ share a letter (‘o’), and the words ‘two’ and ‘three’ also share a letter (‘t’). How far do you have to count in English to find two consecutive numbers which don’t share a letter in common?
  • Peter McCabe, Dublin
  • Great topic to provoke a discussion. I work in an Irish-language school and one is 'aon'(pronounced ane as in plane).

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Idea for Teacher: Another way to present this idea is to challenge pupils to write down in one minute as many words as possible that do not contain the letter A . You can easily win this competition by writing down one, two, three, four etc which is much easier to do!

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Laptops In Lessons

Teacher, do your students have access to computers such as tablets, iPads or Laptops?  This page was really designed for projection on a whiteboard but if you really want the students to have access to it here is a concise URL for a version of this page without the comments:


However it would be better to assign one of the student interactive activities below.

Laptops In Lessons

Here is the URL which will take them to a related activity.


Student Activity

Extension 1

What is the largest number that has only one syllable?

Extension 2

When written as a word or words, what is the smallest positive whole number containing all of the vowels?

Extension 3

When written as a word or words, what is the only prime number that does not contain the letter 'e'?

Extension 4

When written as a word or words, what is the largest positive whole number that does not contain the letter 'o'?

Extension 5

When written as a word or words, what is the largest positive whole number that does not contain the letter 'i'?

Extension 6

When written as a word or words, what is the smallest positive whole number that contains the letter 'b'?

Extension 7

Which number is second if all the natural numbers written as words are arranged in alphabetical order?


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If you enjoyed this type of number puzzle you might like to look at the June 2016 Transum Newsletter which featured a similar challenge as the puzzle of the month.


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