Should We Start Using The Base-12 Number System?

Should We Start Using The Base-12 Number System?

What do you get when you halve the numbers 10 and 12? That's easy: 5 and 6, respectively. But what about when you divide them in thirds? 3.333 and 4. Fourths gets you 2.5 and 3. For everyday calculations -- splitting the bill or determining a store discount, for example -- 12 is much simpler to use than 10. In fact, ancient cultures used a base-12, or duodecimal, counting system rather than one based on 10, and there's a small but vocal group of people who think that a return to that system would make everyday math easier on all of us. Detractors of the base-12 system might point out the difficulty of counting to 12 by hand, since we're born with 10 fingers. But modern cultures who use the base-12 system count on their hands with no trouble at all: by using the thumb as a pointer, they count on the three segments of each finger, which adds up to 12.


from Numberphile

Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    In the base-12 system, the symbols are our usual 1-9, then X (dek) for 10, Ɛ (el) for eleven, and 10 (doh) for 12. (0:42)

  • 2

    The duodecimal system would make everyday calculation easier, since 12 has more factors than 10 and is easier to divide by thirds and fourths. (3:10)

  • 3

    The cultures that use base-12 count on the segments of their fingers. (8:20)

See all





Get smarter every day! Like us on Facebook.
You'll get the most interesting and engaging topics in your feed, straight from our team of experts.