44

In my native language, there is no word for toes. You just use the same word for both toes and fingers. In this context, I would say a human has 20 fingers.

Recently I've heard someone saying a human has 10 fingers (without saying it out loud but assuming that the other 10 are toes and not fingers).

Can I use fingers when referring to toes? Would saying that a human has 20 fingers make sense, in English?

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    A related term, phalanges, refers to the bones of the fingers or toes and could be useful depending on context. – aslum Mar 20 at 13:34
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    In English it's even worse: humans have eight fingers and two thumbs :-) – Aaron F Mar 20 at 13:37
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    Thumbs are fingers, but we rarely call them fingers, because the fact they oppose the other four fingers gives them special status that we call out by using the specific term "thumb". – Monty Harder Mar 20 at 14:31
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    'Finger' sometimes refers to all five of the digits on the hand, and sometimes to the four non-thumb ones. – DJClayworth Mar 20 at 16:05
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    In everyday speech or writing we would say "fingers and toes" (not "digits", which is more technical/precise). Remember, this site is ELL, not a reference dictionary. – smci Mar 21 at 7:26
95

Nope. Fingers are only on the hand, except for figurative uses such as ladyfingers (a dessert). If you talk about the fingers on someone's foot, or a person with 20 fingers, unfortunately you'll just generate unsettling mental images. :)

As smci points out, to refer to the ensemble, people will often say "fingers and toes". This is a so-called "Siamese twin" phrase: the two words love to be paired and the order can't be reversed.

We do also have a single word that covers both fingers and toes: digits. It registers as a somewhat technical term, likely something your doctor would write in a report about an injury. I think most people would understand it in other contexts anyway, though some speakers might not realize that it can apply to toes, probably because of the influence of "finger". (Also, someone's "digits" is a way of referring to their phone number.)

A third alternative is "appendages", which everyone will understand, but which is usually too broad (see comments below) and simply sounds funny when used of regular human body parts.

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    doesn't "appendage" apply to anything that protrudes from the body? Entire limbs, or even genitalia, flabs and warts? – Wilson Mar 20 at 12:00
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    @Wilson Not quite as broad as flabs and warts, but the rest yes. That's why I said it was more general -- meaning unsuitable general. I'll add that in. – Luke Sawczak Mar 20 at 12:09
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    Then we get into the whole thumb/finger thing. @ aMJay - The innermost digit on each hand (the one with only two knuckles rather than three) is a "thumb" and it's never called a "finger" on its own -- but when you say "fingers," thumbs are included. So we have 10 fingers (2 of which are thumbs) and 10 toes (2 of which are "thumb toes" or "big toes"). – T.J. Crowder Mar 20 at 15:14
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    Correct, of course. But try telling Vibram us.vibram.com/shop/fivefingers – Digital Trauma Mar 21 at 0:34
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    @Wilson I rarely hear "appendage" for digits (fingers, toes), to me it implies larger things like arms/legs. (of which there are generally only 4) – Riker Mar 21 at 1:57
30

Toes are not fingers. The general term for fingers and toes is digits. We have twenty digits: ten fingers and ten toes. In French, the toes are called 'doigts de pied' ('fingers of the foot'), also 'orteils'.

Doigt nom masculin
Chacune des parties libres et mobiles qui terminent la main de l'homme : Compter sur ses doigts.

Toe
Digit
Doigt (Larousse)

  • 1
    Even in Italian, we say the equivalent of what French uses. I would say that dita (in Italian) and doigts (in French) are equivalent to English digits, rather than fingers. It's just that we don't have a more specific word for hand digits even if in some contexts, dita alone could be taken as meaning fingers. – kiamlaluno Mar 20 at 12:26
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    @Ruadhan2300 Not true. The thumb is counted as a finger; you say "your thumbs and your other fingers", not "your thumbs and your fingers." And nobody would claim that the sentence "You have ten fingers" is false. – Luke Sawczak Mar 20 at 14:36
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    Un orteil (du latin : articulus, « articulation »), appelé doigt de pied dans le langage courant, – Michael Harvey Mar 20 at 21:26
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    @Ruadhan2300 We're not talking about a medical context, though. Too many people on this site want to get technical about everything. That's not how language works. Thumbs are definitely fingers in almost any context. All English speakers are taught from a young age that we have ten fingers—that includes thumbs. It's ok to call them fingers, despite what medical texts say. 99.99% of people do not care about medical texts. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Mar 21 at 14:17
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    @kiamlaluno, Re "doigts (in French) are equivalent to English digits", No, it's equivalent to fingers. Nous avons seulement 10 doigts. Similarly, "digital" refers to fingers in French. For example, "empreintes digitales" refers to "fingerprints". – ikegami Mar 22 at 21:40
16

No, the correct term to use in your case would be digits. This means both fingers and toes.

4

Heh. There is one particular case where you could do it, but it's pretty bizarre.

If a person loses his thumb, this will have major effects on the function of the hand as a whole. Thumbs are important.

In such cases, the preferred treatment is to transplant the big toe of the appropriate foot to substitute for the missing thumb. Big toes are not nearly as important to proper functioning of a foot.

With time, the pad of the transplanted toe will shrink, and with use and therapy the toe joint will become more flexible. The result is not a perfect replacement, but it's much better than the alternative.

In this case, you could talk about having 10 fingers when one of them is (or at least started out as) a toe. You could even have two, if you're unfortunate.

Other than that, the other answers are spot on: English makes a clear distinction between fingers and toes.

2

Can I use fingers when referring to toes? Would saying that a human has 20 fingers make sense, in English?

No. I don't believe there is any context in which this would be correct - not even some of the unusual ones suggested by other people.

I agree that 20 digits is correct.

We could say, "The typical human has ten fingers and toes."

  • 2
    Does "ten fingers and toes" mean "ten fingers and ten toes" or should it be "twenty fingers and toes"? – jf328 Mar 21 at 14:31
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    @jf328 The sentence is ambiguous. It could mean "ten fingers and ten toes" or "ten fingers and toes in total". Common sense tells us which one is meant. – CJ Dennis Mar 22 at 2:24
  • @CJDennis, unfortunately this type of ambiguity tends to appear in my English exams and usually the teachers have the final call – jf328 Mar 22 at 8:11
1

You could refer to toes as fingers as a metaphor if you were describing someone with uncommon dexterity in their toes.

  • The crowd was amazed when the escape artist kicked off his shoes and his newly exposed fingers untied the knot.

If you mean the toes themselves, then describing them as fingers would be wrong, and confusing.

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    I don't think that metaphor could stand on its own - you'd need more context to make it very clear that you're not literally describing fingers on a foot. Taken on its own, I'd read that sentence as describing a morphologically unique individual, not someone with especially dexterous toes. – Nuclear Wang Mar 20 at 18:10
  • Fair comment. I used the phrase 'escape artist' I had set up that context, but it was not clear enough. – cmm Mar 20 at 18:15
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    This just gives me a rather unsettling mental image of someone with actual fingers where their toes should be. I don't think any context would help, no matter how explicit. – chasly from UK Mar 20 at 18:38
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    When I was 19 I dated a girl who revealed she had a horror of human feet. Any feet, not just mine. She said "They look like horribly deformed hands". – Michael Harvey Mar 21 at 17:37
  • @MichaelHarvey Hilarious! I wonder how she knew that hands aren't horribly (beautifully?) deformed feet... – Luke Sawczak Mar 22 at 11:25
1

I have only used the word 'fingers' to refer to 'toes' when looking at some pre-Renaissance and Renaissance paintings where barefoot figures looked like they had fingers for toes.

1

Humans have 10 fingers and 10 toes. It would not be correct to say that we have 20 fingers or 20 toes. Fingers are only on our hands, and toes are only on our feet. However, a general word "digits" can be used to say that we have 20 digits altogether.

1

No

  1. "fingers and toes" is what we would say in everyday speech or writing (not "digits", which is more technical/precise).

    • (Yes, to be pedantic, "finger" is here referring to both fingers and thumbs)
  2. "digits" is the more technical/precise term, but you'd almost never hear that spoken, except when discussing anatomy.

  • I do like that phrasing. Given where the votes are at this point, would you rather I add it to my answer and credit you or leave it as it is? – Luke Sawczak Mar 22 at 11:26
  • @LukeSawczak: feel free to add it and credit me, but my comment was your answer totally misses the point; this is ELL.SE, not Anatomy.SE. The colloquial phrase we all use since the age of two is "fingers and toes". Not "digits". – smci Mar 22 at 11:29
  • My answer can hardly miss the point, given that the question was "Can 'fingers' be used for toes?" and the answer is no :) I then offered two alternatives, with caveats — one of which is precisely the one you mention, that "digits" is workable but more suited to doctors than everyday language. A key part of learning a language is learning the register of the different terms you encounter, including whether they're technical jargon or everyday language. Adding a third alternative that I agree is in wider use just strengthens the answer, not undermines it... Thanks for suggesting it! – Luke Sawczak Mar 23 at 0:58
  • @LukeSawczak: well ok, there is unanimity that the answer to the literal question asked is "No", but to the implied question is "Well then what are they called?", which is not a single-word request: Noone says "Wiggle your phalanges" either... (and yes, phalanges are only the third and last bone, not the entire finger/toe). My point here is to discourage English language-learners from uttering or writing "digits" (or "appendages") rather than "fingers and toes". Btw, "appendage" can refer to penis too, searches for "his appendage" show that, and some FSM references. – smci Mar 23 at 1:10
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    Fair enough, though I'd say we can give credit to the learner to read the caveats and use (or at least understand!) terms in the circumstances they work in. I guess readiness to do that depends on the level, too. "Phalanges" is much further in the deep end of anatomical jargon than "digits", so I draw a similar line on that one and wouldn't include it in my answer. Admittedly "appendages" is also pretty unlikely outside of a humorous use ("fleshly appendages") — so I've tried to strengthen the wording in my last edit. – Luke Sawczak Mar 23 at 1:16

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