A native speaker told me that in the sentence below 1500 is in the sixteenth century, but in my language we would say in the fifteenth century but if it's 1501 then in the sixteenth century. Is it different in English?

"When Elizabeth I was queen of England in the 1500s, some rather dangerous cosmetics was used by women there."

  • I'd avoid constructions such as "the 1500s" since it can ambiguously refer to a decade or a century. In any case, Elizabeth I was not alive in the year 1500 so there's no reason not to use "16th century".
    – jsheeran
    Mar 2, 2022 at 10:54

1 Answer 1


This is what Wikipedia says on the subject:

Wikipedia century

Start and end of centuries
Although a century can mean any arbitrary period of 100 years, there are two viewpoints on the nature of standard centuries. One is based on strict construction, while the other is based on popular perception.

The strict construction viewpoint is what you said your language dictates: 1501-1600 = 16th century, while 1500 is in the 15th century.
The popular viewpoint is that 1500 through 1599 are in the 16th century.

In any case, if you speak of the 1500s as 16th century, you are at least 99% right, since the term takes in all time from the start of 1500 to the end of 1599.

BTW, while cosmetic can be singular, in your use, cosmetics should be taken as plural.

  • 5
    Many people, me included, were brought up to use the term 'the XXX hundreds' or 'the xx00s' to refer to the first decade of a century, so that the 1900s started on January 1st 1900, and ended on December 31st 1909, to be followed by the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, etc. It always strikes me as odd that people say, e.g. that Queen Victoria ruled during 'the 1800s', when she wasn't even born until 1819, and ascended the throne in 1837. Mar 2, 2022 at 11:14

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