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What is a Quadrillion?

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There are two systems in use for naming numbers larger than a million.

American System

In the American system, the Latin prefix refers to the number of groups of three zeros, not including the last group of three, which represents a thousand. Thus in the USA, a billion is 1,000,000,000 (109) and a quadrillion is a mere 1,000,000,000,000,000. (1015).

British System

In the British system, the Latin prefix represents the power of a million, thus a British billion is 1,000,000,000,000 (1012) and a British quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1024).

Current British Usage

Common usage in most English-speaking countries, including Britain, has now almost completely adopted the American system, so it is now a thousand times easier to become a British billionaire. This change started taking place slowly around the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, so when determining what the words billion, trillion, and quadrillion mean, it is necessary to consider both when and where they were used.

For a long time the BBC World Service used to say one thousand million rather than one billion to make the meaning universally clear, but with current sizes of national budgets this solution has become unworkable.

Visualizing a Quadrillion

If you want to see what a stack of 1 Quadrillion (U.S.) pennies might look like, click here.

To imagine what a stack of 1 Quadrillion pennies used to look like to the rest of the world, just view that same page one thousand million times... (If you view it once a second, it should only take you 31.7 years to do this.)










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