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Ordinal Numbers in French

Instructor: Susan Binkley

Susan has taught college-level French and has a PhD in French studies.

In this lesson, we'll learn about ordinal numbers, like first, second, third, and so on. We will look at situations where they are used, the regular pattern to form them and exceptions, their abbreviations, and how to use these numbers.

Using Ordinal Numbers

How lucky you are--to be in France during the famous cycling race, le Tour de France! You and your friend Claire are watching the cyclists finish the sixth stage of the race--la sixième (pronounced: see-zee-em) étape.

You excitedly call out to Claire, 'Fabrice arrive premier!' (pronounced: pruh-mee -ay). Fabrice finishes first!

'Manuel arrive deuxième!' (pronounced: duh-zee-em). Claire sees a Spanish cyclist, Manuel, finish second.

'Et Laurent arrive troisième!' (pronounced: trwa-zee-em). Laurent, a French cyclist, finishes third.

After several more cyclists cross the finish line, Claire says, 'Ah non, Grégoire arrive dixième!' (pronounced: dee-zee-em). She's so disappointed that Gregoire is tenth!

Did you notice the form of the numbers in the conversation? These ordinal numbers are formed from the regular number plus the ending -ième. For example, 'third' is the number 'three' (trois) plus -ième, to form the ordinal number troisième, or third. In English, we usually add '-th' to the number, to form the ordinal number. For example, we say 'fourth, fifth, sixth,' and so on. But in French the ending is -ième, so we say, quatrième, cinquième, sixième.

Other Forms of Ordinal Numbers

There are a few exceptions, though!

The equivalent of 'first' in French is premier for the masculine form and première for the feminine form. It needs to agree with the gender of the noun it is modifying. In other words, if it is modifying a feminine word such as in 'the first time,' the expression would be la première fois (pronounced: pruh-mee-air) since fois is feminine.

  • However, for other numbers such as 21, 31, 41, and 51, we do not use premier. Instead, these numbers follow the normal pattern: vingt-et-unième.
  • The number nine, or neuf, drops the 'f' and replaces it with a 'v': neuvième (pronounced: nuh-vee-em).
  • A number ending in 'e,' such as quatre, drops the 'e' from the end: quatrième.
  • The number five, cinq, adds a 'u' before the -ième: cinquième.

You might also hear second (prounounced: suh-gonde) instead of deuxième in some situations. For example, the expression for 'in second class' on a train is en seconde. This is because there is no 'third class' on a train. When there is no 'third' in the series, deuxième is not used but second(e) is used instead.

Abbreviations and Dates

When we abbreviate an ordinal number in English, we usually add a 'th' to the numeral, such as '10th,' or we add an 'st' for '1st.' In French, the abbreviation has an 'e' after the number, such as 2e, 3e, 4e, etc. for deuxième, troisième, and quatrième.

The abbreviation for premier is 1er and 1ère for première.

Do you see the abbreviation for troisieme on this street sign?
Troisième

What about saying the date in French? In French, to state the date, the ordinal numbers are not used, but we use the regular number, or 'cardinal' number (like one, two, three, and so on). For example, in English, we say 'July 4th,' but in French, we would say le 4 juillet. The number comes before the name of the month. You should also notice how the date begins with 'le.'

For the first day of the month, we use the ordinal number for 'first,' premier. So January 1st is le 1er janvier in French.

Knowing the abbreviations for the ordinal numbers can be pretty important. Remember that very often, the numeral is used in writing rather than spelling it out. This is especially true for dates. Even in English, we would rarely write out 'January first.'

1st Through 25th

Here are the ordinal numbers for first to twenty-fifth and their abbreviations:

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