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In Cedric Mount's one-act play 'The Never Never Nest', Aunt Jane asks Jack:

How can you pay seven pounds eight and eight pence out of six pounds?

I thought seven pounds eight and eight pence meant £ 7.88 pence, because after a decimal point, normally the numbers are spoken separately. But I am told that my understanding is wrong. It is 7 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence.

Which is correct? I hope someone may shed some light on this focusing on shilling and pence details. Thanks in advance.

  • 4
    That should be "eightpence", spelt as one word. The "pence" is unstressed, with a schwa vowel. (And it's definitely old money.) – TonyK Nov 12 at 10:59
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    It hasn't been mentioned in the answers but you can't pay seven pounds eight and eightpence out of six pounds because £7/8/8 > £6. – Transistor Nov 12 at 21:10
  • @Transistor that is Aunt Jane's question, not mine, to which Jack has replied in the play. – mahmud koya Nov 13 at 0:31
23

Prior to February 1971, Britain had a currency system where 12 pennies ('pence') (abbreviation 'd') made one shilling, and 20 shillings made one pound. The sum of seven pounds, eight shillings and eight pence would be written in a variety of ways, e.g. £7.8s.8d, £7/8/8, £7-8-8. It would be spoken informally as "seven pounds eight [shillings] and eight [pence]". I once bought a tape recorder (from Headquarter and General Supplies in Croydon, if anyone is interested) that was advertised to cost '£4-19-6'. Especially in signs or posters, the separator between pounds, shillings and pence could be any of a number of characters, or just spaces. Here we see colons. The returnable crate (for a baby carriage) was charged at five shillings - 5/-, the dash representing 'no pence'. Sums of shillings and pence were often written with a stroke separator, and smaller sums between £1 and £5 might be written thus, e.g. 59/6 was £2.19.6.

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    @mahmudkoya: that's right. Many people say "pee" rather than "pence" (I say "pence"). Most often people say "seven pounds eighty-eight", without "and" or "pence/pee". – Colin Fine Nov 11 at 10:47
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    Prior to decimalisation, nobody said 'pee' for 'pence', but people did say 'dee' for the 'd' symbol for old pence. I once got into an argument on here about that, and produced a 1915 quote from HG Wells to prove it. – Michael Harvey Nov 11 at 15:53
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    @mahmudkoya To follow on from Colin Fine's comment, the "and" is almost never used - the "pence/pee" is optional. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 11 at 17:51
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    "seven pounds and eighty-eight pence, right?" if someone feels the need to be precise yes, in normal speech they are just as likely to say "seven eighty-eight" and let the units be implied by the context. – Peter Green Nov 11 at 19:46
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    I feel no-one has completely answered the question until they point out that seven pounds, eight and eightpence (£7/8/8) is £7.43 (and a third) in the new money. – Rupert Morrish Nov 12 at 2:06
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The usual way of saying an amount in pounds, shillings and pence was with "and" between the shillings and pence amounts.

So "seven and six" meant "7 shillings and 6 pence". "Eight pounds eight and eight" would be your amount of 8 pounds 8 shillings and 8 pence.

If there were no pence, the word "shillings" was often used, i.e. "eight pounds ten shillings" not just "eight pounds ten".

It's worth mentioning that there has been considerable currency inflation since the 1970s. When pounds shillings and pence were still in use, many common items cost much less than one pound. For example when I reached the legal age to buy alcohol, the price of a pint of beer was less than 2 shillings in some local pubs - i.e. less than 10p in current decimal money, compared with a few pounds today. So prices less than a pound like "two and six" were commonly used in shops, etc.

The modern convention is usually just to say the numbers of pounds and pence, e.g. "seven eighty-eight" means "7 pounds 88 pence". If the number of pence is small, people often add "and" after the pounds and "pee" after the pence, e.g. "seven pounds and three pee" not just "seven three".

Note, an amount like "seven eighty-eight" is slightly ambiguous, because it could also mean "788 pounds", but it is usually obvious whether you are talking about a large or a small amount of money.

As David42 said in a comment, in the early 1970s when the UK currency changed to decimal, and both types of coins were in use together, people often said "old pence" or "new pence" to avoid confusion.

  • Shillings is not used any longer nowadays? – dan Nov 12 at 4:04
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    @dan: No. (Well, unless you count people who are deliberately trying to sound old-fashioned, or discussing inflation from pre-1971 prices.) The shilling as a notational unit was abolished with decimalisation. Shilling coins remained in circulation (as 5p) until 1990 when they were replaced with a smaller 5p coin. – dan04 Nov 12 at 5:47
  • @dan04 also two shilling coins worth 10p. – nekomatic Nov 12 at 9:11
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    To further confuse things, there were also florins (two shillings), half-crowns (two shillings and sixpence - 8 of them made a £1) and ha'pennies (half-penny). The weird currency system (Galleons, Sickles, Knuts etc.) that J.K. Rowling describes in the first Harry Potter is probably a parody of this. – Oscar Bravo Nov 12 at 12:09
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    Sometimes the old money is, only half-jokingly, known as the Lsd system (more often £sd). Pounds were written L for libra (or a fancy L -- £ -- if you had a posh typewriter), shillings s for solidus (not s for shilling!), pennies d for denarius). It's a system which the UK inherited for the Roman Empire and was once in wide use around Europe. What makes the UK weird is that we were so late changing it. In the same way, rarely within Europe, none of the UK's day-of-the-week names ever got Christianised. Not much changes here! – Dan Sheppard Nov 12 at 23:01

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