Episode 37: Money in the USA

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 37: Money in the USA

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The money of a country is its currency, and US currency is the dollar. In America, pieces of paper currency are called ‘bills’ or ‘notes’. Small, round, metal pieces of currency are ‘coins’.

Bills are used for amounts of one dollar or more, and coins are used for smaller amounts. Paper money and coins together are referred to as ‘cash’. Money used in daily life is said to be ‘circulated’. The face value of a bill or coin is called its denomination.

The dollar is abbreviated either as USD, or, more commonly, with the dollar sign, which looks like a capital letter S with a vertical line through it: $. Therefore, to write one dollar, write either 1 USD or $1.

US currency uses a decimal system, which means it is based on the number 10. That means higher denominations can be divided by ten into smaller denominations. So, a ten-dollar bill is equal to ten one-dollar bills.

The dollar can be divided into 100 cents. To write amounts under one dollar, use either the cent sign (99¢) or the dollar sign with a decimal point: $0.99. For amounts over one dollar, use only the dollar sign. For example, one dollar and ninety-nine cents is written this way: $1.99. Use a comma to separate every three digits for one thousand dollars or more. For example, ten thousand dollars is written thus: $10,000.

Paper Money

All the denominations of US bills are the same size. A one-dollar bill is the same size as the 100-dollar bill. Also, the back of each bill is green, and so dollars are sometimes called ‘greenbacks’.

Older bills were green on both sides. Newer bills show greens, grays and other colors on the front, depending on the denomination. Also on the front of each bill is a famous US leader, and most of those leaders are past presidents. Therefore, if someone speaks about ‘dead presidents’, they are talking about money.

Here is a list of currently-circulated US paper money, whose picture appears on it, and other information:

  • one-dollar bill: $1.00; President George Washington
  • two-dollar bill: $2.00; President Thomas Jefferson; rare/not commonly circulated
  • five-dollar bill: $5.00; President Abraham Lincoln
  • ten-dollar bill; $10.00; Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of the Treasury)
  • twenty-dollar bill; $20.00; President Andrew Jackson
  • fifty-dollar bill; $50.00; President Ulysses S. Grant
  • hundred-dollar bill; $100.00; Benjamin Franklin (not a president but an important statesman)


Unlike bills, US coins are different sizes, depending on denomination. The smallest coin, the penny, is the smallest denomination. The dollar coin is the largest. Coins, too, have pictures of presidents on them.

Here is a list of presently-circulated US coins, their value, the president who appears on each, plus other facts:

  • penny: one cent (1¢); President Abraham Lincoln; copper-colored
  • nickel: five cents (5¢); President Thomas Jefferson; silver-colored because of the nickel in the coin
  • dime; ten cents (10¢); President Franklin D. Roosevelt; silver-colored
  • quarter: twenty-five cents (25¢); President George Washington; silver colored; a ‘statehood’ quarter has a picture from one of the 50 US states on the back
  • half-dollar: 50 cents (50¢); President John F. Kennedy; also called a 50-cent piece; rather rare to see this coin
  • dollar coin: one dollar ($1); four different kinds: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lady Liberty, Susan B. Anthony (who was the first woman to vote in the USA), and Sacajawea (an early Native American explorer); dollar coins are not used much; rather, people keep them for collections

A group of coins, such as may be in your pocket, is called ‘change’. For example, ‘change for a dollar’ is a collection of coins that adds up to one dollar. So, if someone asks if you have change for a dollar, they want to trade their paper bill for your coins.

A bonus document with additional information, slang words and idioms about Money in the USA is available for download FREE on the Patreon site at Patreon.com/slowamericanenglish. You will need the free download bonus material to answer some of the questions on the Exercise Worksheet.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.