What is an Ordinal Number? - Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Numbers For Counting
  • 0:36 Numbers For Ordering
  • 2:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Vigil
In this lesson, you'll learn what ordinal numbers are, what they're useful for, and see examples of how they're used. We'll also look at the different ways to write ordinal numbers.

Numbers for Counting

At their most basic, we use numbers (such as 3, 10, 101, 784 and 2016) for counting. How many states are in the U.S.? 50. How many letters in the word 'red'? 3. How many tires on a car? 4. These counting numbers are called cardinal numbers. Without them, we couldn't describe to each other how many of something we have or can see. That's great, but what if we need to describe the order of items?

Numbers for Ordering

Let's say there's a race between Joe, Sue, and Bob. You want to know in what order they finished. Suddenly, our cardinal numbers fail us because we're not asking how many runners there are, we're asking for what order they finished in. This is where ordinal numbers, or ordering numbers, come in. Notice that the word 'ordinal' is similar to the word 'order' and that they, in fact, share the same first three letters.

If Bob won the race, we'd say that he finished the race first. This ordinal number corresponds with the cardinal number 1. The difference is that while 1 tells us that there is a single item in a set, first tells us that an item is in the lead position in an ordered set of items. Because first corresponds to 1, we can also write it like this: 1st.

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