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:
How old are you? How many siblings do you have? How long have you been learning Spanish? These are just a few of the questions that you can answer with numbers! Los números help us quantify and categorize things or experiences in our lives. They are so important that they are essential for almost every area of human society, including economics, science, and many social interactions. Number awareness in Spanish will let you set a coffee date with a friend, barter down the price of goods at an outdoor market, and understand how many spots are left on the bus for travel. Let’s take a look at how to comprehend, construct, and pronounce numbers in Spanish! Then we’ll get into the games and learning activities we can use to memorize what we’ve learned. ¡Aprendamos a contar!
Types of Numbers in Spanish
Cardinal vs. Ordinal
Cardinal numbers are the simple, original form of a number: 1, 2, 3, etc. This is in contrast to ordinal numbers, which are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. As we begin our journey of number awareness, it’s important to start with cardinal numbers so that they can serve as the base for learning ordinal numbers later. Keep in mind that Spanish speakers use cardinal instead of ordinal numbers when talking about la fecha, or the calendar date. They add “de + month” after the cardinal number. An example is: veinte de julio (July 20).
Here we have a chart with numbers 0-20 in Spanish:
Spelling numbers in Spanish is easy once you understand certain patterns. If you remember, numbers 16-19 have a distinct pattern where they all begin with “dieci”. These numbers were originally written diez y seis, diez y siete, etc. and have since changed their spelling. In a similar fashion, the spelling for numbers 21 through 29 has changed. It is not uncommon to see these numbers written as veinte y uno, veinte y dos, etc. However, according to the Real Academia Española, this is no longer an acceptable form of spelling. The form we must learn combines the two numbers and changes the ‘y’ to an ‘i’. In order to move the emphasis to the last syllable, there is an acute accent mark on veintidós, veintitrés, and veintiséis.
How to Build Bigger Numbers
Numbers begin to build on each other after 15. You will see that deiciséis through diecinueve are a combination of diez + y + number. This was, in fact, how they were all originally spelled. This construction is currently used for numbers from treinta y uno (31) to noventa y nueve (99). By combining the number in the tens place (30, 40, 50, etc.) with the number in the ones place (1, 2, 3, etc.) and placing y in between, we form the following numbers:
Now, when we reach 100, we say cien, but any number between 101-199 uses ciento. Except for 500 (which is quinientos), numbers 200 and higher use cientos in plural form. These bigger numbers are a combination of the whole hundred + cientos + number. For example, doscientos diez (210), trescientos once (311), etc. This is different from mil, which is 1,000, where it does not add an -s for dos mil (2,000) and higher. Whew, what a mouthful! This can be tricky at first, but with plenty of practice, it will seem natural. Additionally, take notice of the spelling differences in the number (700) setecientos and (900) novecientos. Here is a chart of some of the bigger numbers:
Gender in Numbers
When we list Spanish numbers in their original form, they are generally gender-neutral. However, the whole hundreds in the numbers 200 through 900 change to feminine when they quantify a feminine noun, by changing -cientos into -cientas. In addition, numbers that end in -uno undergo a spelling change in certain conditions. If the number proceeds a masculine noun, such as 21 cats, the number 21 is written as veintiún gatos. However, if the number proceeds a feminine noun that begins with the letter a, such as 31 eagles, the number is most commonly written in masculine form: treinta y un águilas. Learn more about that here. When a number like 41 precedes a feminine noun that doesn’t start with an a, then the ending is -una: cuarenta y una manzanas.
To make the most of learning about numbers, we have to be able to pronounce them correctly! Check out our video to get you started on perfecting your pronunciation! Test yourself on some of the more difficult numbers that are similar in pronunciation and sometimes confused with one another!
Games and Activities
The best way to retain any new information is to play games, of course! Engage your senses and skillsets with some of these fun ideas:
- Bingo is a popular game and is especially helpful when trying to tune those listening skills. If providing for a bigger group of learners, you can print out blank Bingo cards, pass them out for students to fill in numbers in their numerical form, and you can call out numbers 1-100 at random. If you would like a pre-made set of 4 Bingo Cards and a Spanish Numbers Calling Sheet, feel free to use our free gift to you! (Find the link at the end of this blog!) It’s fun for the whole family and keeps learners excited.
- Catch and Count is a ball game that requires at least 2 players. Everyone stands in a circle and chooses the numbers they will be counting (from 1-50 or 1-100, for example). The person holding the ball says the first number then tosses it to someone else who must say the next number in the sequence. The group tosses the ball around until they reach the maximum number. If someone messes up, they have to start all over again!
- Uno is an obvious game to play to practice numbers, especially because of its name! While playing this family favorite, make sure to require that all players say the numbers in Spanish before they play them. Each player can say their number by using the phrase, “Yo tengo el número _____.”
Spanish Number Sense
Now that you’ve learned your numbers in Spanish, you can practice using them with friends, family, or in the classroom. Expand your knowledge by taking online classes with Homeschool Spanish Academy where you will learn how to have conversations using numbers! Your journey into Spanish learning is well on its way now. Keep up the good work and stay inspired with our other blogs!
Keep practicing with our Bingo game!Read More