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Summary – meaning and use
Ordinal numbers tell us the position of something in a group. They are used for:
It’s the twelfth of November
2. The order of events
Her fiftieth birthday
3. Position in space
Our apartment’s on the first floor
It’s the third on the right
4. Order of quality
The first prize in the competition
Spelling and form
We usually form ordinal numbers by adding –th to cardinal numbers:
four – fourth
first, second and third are irregular forms
fifth, eighth, ninth, twelfth and numbers ending in -y have irregular spellings: twentieth
We say dates with the and of:
the eighth of April
April the eighth
But we don’t write them like that. We write them as:
First, second and third have the irregular suffixes 1st, 2nd and 3rd
We usually use the definite article the with ordinal numbers:on the third day
It was the first time I’ve ever been to France
But sometimes we use possessives:
my thirtieth birthday
Julia’s second child
Ordinal numbers are also used as adjectives and adverbs without the or a possessive adjective.
What’s the date today? And do you know how to say it?
Listen to the audio
And me, Neil. And today we’re talking about ordinal numbers.
Yes. So numbers like first, second and third. So let’s start by listening to Laurence. He’s talking about his 18th birthday party. While you listen, try to answer this question: What date was his party? Here’s Laurence.
For my 18th birthday last year, I invited about sixty friends and relatives! It was on the twenty-fifth of May and it was the first time that I’ve ever had a big party. It was in a restaurant on the third floor of a hotel. The food was really delicious and I won second prize in the dancing competition!
So we asked you: What date was Laurence’s birthday party?
And the answer is: the twenty-fifth of May.
That’s right. Now the twenty-fifth is an ordinal number like the first and the second. Ordinal numbers tell us the position of something in a group – the dates in a month, for example.
Or which birthday it is. Laurence said it was his eighteenth birthday.
Yes, he did. Lucky him! And ordinal numbers are different to cardinal numbers. We use cardinal numbers like one, two, three for counting and to answer the question how many.
And to make a cardinal number into an ordinal number, add the letters t-h to the end of the cardinal number. Eighteen – eighteenth; sixty – sixtieth.
And that works for all the cardinal numbers except for first, second and third – they’re irregular, but for all the others, it’s add t-h, so that’s fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh…
Eighth, ninth, tenth. So that’s good but in writing we do have a couple of irregular spellings, such as fifth:
And for numbers ending in -y like sixty, drop the -y and add -i-e and -t-h to make sixtieth:
Now let’s look more closely at dates. Listen for the date in this clip.
INSERT CLIP 1
It was on the twenty-fifth of May and it was the first time that I’ve ever had a big party.
The twenty-fifth of May. When we say the day before the month, we always use the words the and of: the twenty-fifth of May.
But when we say the month before the day, we don’t use the word of. It’s just May the twenty-fifth.
We often use the word the with ordinal numbers, but we can also use possessives. In this next clip, Laurence uses the possessive adjective my before eighteenth.
INSERT 1 CLIP 2
For my 18th birthday last year, I invited about sixty friends and relatives!
Let’s have another clip.
INSERT 1 CLIP 3
It was in a restaurant on the third floor of a hotel. The food was really delicious and I won second prize in the dancing competition!
So, now we have two more ways of using ordinal numbers: space and quality.
Yes, we do. And the third floor tells us about the position of the floors in space. It’s the same as when we give directions, for example: Take the second left after the traffic lights.
And second prize tells us about the quality. And a point to make here is that ordinal numbers can be used as adjectives and adverbs without the. Like in the phrase he won second prize. Second is an adjective.
6 Minute Vocabulary from BBC Learning English.
And now it’s quiz time! Number one: Which of these is correct? The party’s on: a) thirtieth of July b) the thirtieth July c) the thirtieth of July.
And it’s c) the thirtieth of July.
Great! Now, number two. Which word in this list is wrong? First, second, third, ford, fifth.
The answer’s ford. It should be fourth.
Yes, it should! Number three: Which of these is correct? a) My twenty-first birthday b) My the twenty-first birthday c) The my twenty-first birthday.
The answer’s a) My twenty-first birthday.
Well done if you got them right. But before we go, here’s a vocabulary tip. Try saying your own important and memorable dates in English, for example, birthdays, anniversaries and festivals. If the dates are important, you’re more likely to remember the English.