Ordinal Numbers in Spanish
Today is my 20th birthday! My party will be at the fifth house on the second avenue. As of now, you’re the first to know! Ok, ok, so today isn’t really my birthday, but without the use of ordinal numbers, I wouldn’t be able to tell you all about it. Ordinal numbers tell us about an object’s position in relation to others. They are the numerical labels that help us arrange objects or ideas in order: first, second, third, etc. They are different from cardinal numbers, or natural numbers, that represent a quantity that we can count. When we learn about ordinal numbers in Spanish, it’s important to remember the vocabulary as well as the ways that they are used.
Ordinal Numbers 1-10
The most commonly used números ordinales in Spanish are numbers 1-10. As you will soon see, the numbers after 10 grow in complexity and length, which has undoubtedly persuaded Spanish speakers to use the cardinal numbers between 11 and a million much more frequently. Let’s start with a list of the numbers 1-10 in their ordinal form with a pronunciation cheat sheet!
It is important to take note that we do not use these ordinal numbers in Spanish exactly the same way that we use them in English. For example, unlike English, we write the days of the month with the cardinal number to specify a date. The only exception is for the first day of the month, where we use the ordinal number:
Cardinal number: El diez de agosto (August 10th)
Ordinal number for the first day of any month: El primero de abril (April 1st), el primero de agosto (August 1st)
The use of the ordinal number to denote the first of the month is a general and common rule for Spanish, but it is acceptable only in Spain to use uno instead of primero (El uno de abril).
Give it a try
Here is a quick quiz to see if you can fill in the blanks with the correct ordinal number, using the chart above to help! (See the answers at the end of the blog to check your work!)
1. el ______________ (8th) carro
2. el ______________ (1st) de noviembre
3. el ______________ (10th) suéter
4. el ______________ (5th) hermano
5. el ______________ (9th) cuadro
Ordinal Versus Cardinal
While cardinal numbers act as adjectives, ordinal numbers can be adverbs, pronouns, and adjectives. The major difference between them is that cardinal numbers do not usually change according to the gender and number of the noun, as ordinal numbers do. Here are a few examples that show how ordinal numbers change in order to adapt to the noun that they describe:
You will see that the ordinal number ending in ‘o’ comes before masculine nouns, while the ordinal number ending in ‘a’ precedes feminine nouns.
Do you notice anything strange in the chart above? Take a closer look at the ordinal number in the sentence Me dieron el primer boleto. In our example, it’s no mistake that primer is written without the final ‘o’. Ordinal numbers primero and tercero both lose the final ‘o’ when they are in front of a singular noun. This is the case even if another word is in between, as in, el primer gran día (the first big day).
El primer momento libre = the first free moment
El ganador del tercer lugar = the third place winner
Give it a try
Which ordinal or cardinal numbers do you need to fill in the following blanks? (See the answers at the end of the blog to check your work!)
6. Tengo ______________ (2) animales.
7. Tengo el ______________ (2nd) animal.
8. Hoy es la ______________ (1st) vez.
9. Lo hago solo ______________ (1) vez.
10. Comienza la ______________ (4th) entrada.
We have just learned that ordinal numbers are often adjectives. As you may know, an adjective generally comes after the noun it describes in Spanish. In the case of ordinal numbers, however, they come before the noun unless discussing a member of royalty or the pope.
El sexto libro = the sixth book
Mi primera foto = my first photo
Juan Carlos Primero = Juan Carlos the First, the former king of Spain
San Juan Pablo Segundo = Pope John Paul the Second
Numbers 11 to 100
Ordinal numbers are not ordinarily used after 10, but it is still important to expose yourself to them so that you can recognize them when they do appear. Both 11th and 12th have two acceptable forms, which the chart below shows. While there is, unfortunately, no formula to memorize for all the ordinal numbers after 11, there are a few guidelines we can follow. For numbers 13-19, we use a combination of decimo + ordinal number 3-9, as in decimocuarto (14th). For numbers in between 20-100, we use the ordinal number ending in -gésimo or -agésimo + the unique singular ordinal number 1-9, as in vigésimo primero (21st).
As you view the chart, keep in mind that all of these ordinal numbers can be written together or apart, as in decimoprimero or décimo primero. Additionally, if they describe a feminine noun, their form changes to decimaprimera or décima primera.
Similar to English, Spanish ordinal numbers can be written in long form or using superscriptions. While in English we use “st” “nd” “rd” and “th” as the superscriptions (as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), Spanish uses “o” for masculine nouns or “a” for feminine nouns, as in the following examples:
Another way of abbreviating numbers is by using roman numerals, which we read as ordinal numbers. We can use roman numerals with centuries, popes, monarchs, emperors, books, volumes, chapters, and recurring events. Keep in mind that in informal speech, the use of ordinal numbers above 10 is fairly rare. Instead of saying, el quincuagésimo capítulo, one would more likely say el capítulo cincuenta.
Now that you have learned how to use ordinal numbers, be sure to keep practicing them regularly in speech and writing. Be sure to check out our blog on cardinal numbers to refresh your memory or learn new vocabulary! To enhance your language skills, schedule a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and start speaking Spanish with a native speaker today!
Answers to Give It a Try: