Forming and declension of ordinal numbers in German
In German, it's possible to use numbers as adjectives. To do so, it's important to know the difference of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their usage. This chapter will deal with it.
Ordinal numbers in German
Ordinal numbers are not the numerals to count (eins, zwei drei). In most cases they are written (erste, zweite, dritte/first, second, third) and used:
- to express the relative position of a person, thing etc. compared to others or
- to express a certain order.
How to form the ordinal numbers
The ordinal numbers are created in most cases by adding a suffix to a cardinal number. To use a cardinal number, you have to add
- a -te to numbers from 1 to 19
- and -ste to numbers above 19.
|Cardinal number||Pronouncing||Ordinal number with -te|
Watch out for some exception of this rule! At erste and dritte there is a changed root, at siebte the- en is dropped, and at achte which only adds an -e.
|Cardinal number||Pronouncing||Ordinal number with -ste|
By writing a text, the ordinal numbers are usually written out until 12. By using numbers from 13 on, just use the cardinal form and add a point (13., 14.).
Declension of ordinal numbers and their use as adjectives
In most cases, ordinal numbers are considered as adjectives. Therefore the numbers need to be declined in the same way as adjectives. Depending on the type of article, there are different types of declension:
- Declension for ordinal numbers with definite article
- with indefinite article
- without preceding article
|With definite article||Masculine||Feminine||Neuter|
|Nominative||der zweite Hund||die zweite Puppe||das zweite Kind|
|Accusative||den zweiten Hund||die zweite Puppe||das zweite Kind|
|Dative||dem zweiten Hund||der zweiten Puppe||dem zweiten Kind|
|Genitive||des zweiten Hundes||der zweiten Puppe||des zweiten Kindes|
|With indefinite article||Masculine||Feminine||Neuter|
|Nominative||ein zweiter Hund||eine zweite Puppe||ein zweites Kind|
|Accusative||einen zweiten Hund||eine zweite Puppe||ein zweites Kind|
|Dative||einem zweiten Hund||einer zweiten Puppe||einem zweiten Kind|
|Genitive||eines zweiten Hundes||einer zweiten Puppe||eines zweiten Kindes|
|Nominative||zweiter Hund||zweite Puppe||zweites Kind|
|Accusative||zweiten Hund||zweite Puppe||zweites Kind|
|Dative||zweitem Hund||zweiter Puppe||zweitem Kind|
|Genitive||zweiten Hundes||zweiter Puppe||zweiten Kindes|
Usage of ordinal numbers as adjectives
As ordinal numbers as adjectives usually refer to a noun, they need to be declined. They stand in front of the noun they refer to.
- Wir wohnen im fünfzehnten Stock. (We live on the 15th floor.)
- Englisch ist seine zweite Fremdsprache. (English is his 2nd foreign language.)
- Das ist mein erster Besuch in Berlin. (This is my first visit in Berlin.)
- Der Vater war bei der Geburt seines ersten Kindes dabei. (The father was present at the birth of his first child.)
Keep in mind, that the numbers are used as adjectives and therefore always need to take adjective endings!
Special cases to use ordinal numbers
There are some forms of expressions, where it is necessary to know how to use ordinals in German. For instance:
- Using dates
- Ordinal numbers without article
- Nominal numbers
1) By using ordinal numbers to talk about the dates in German the ordinal number stands before the month or the year.
- Heute ist der elfte September. (Today it's the 11th of September.)
- Mein Bruder hat am dreizehnten Mai Geburtstag. (My brother has its birthday on the 13th of May.)
- Das Konzert findet am siebzehnten Februar statt. (The concert will take place on the 17th of February.)
2) Ordinal numbers without article are not just used as the ordinal numbers, but with synonyms.
- Das ist Deutschlands größtes Autobahnkreuz. (This is Germanys biggest motorway interchange.)
- China ist unser wichtigster Handelspartner. (China is our most important trading partner.)
- Bester Film aller Zeiten. (Best movie of all ages.)
In all examples the bold type words mean that the noun is ranked number one in any ranking. So the ordinal number is used in a different style.
3) Ordinal numbers can also be used as nouns.
- Er möchte immer Erster sein. (He always wants to be the first one.)
- Kroatien ist bei der Fußballweltmeisterschaft Zweiter geworden. (Croatia finished second at the soccer world cup.)
- Er traf als Dritter ins Ziel. (He hit the bull's eye third.)
Cardinal numbers in German
In German, as well as in English, there are both cardinal and ordinal numbers. The cardinal numbers are the numerals used to count.
Cardinal numbers from 1 to 100
|Cardinal numbers in German||Spelling and pronouncing|
Using numbers higher than 20, in German the numbers are expressed in reverse (e.g. 21 = einundzwanzig = one-and-twenty).
Cardinal numbers can also be used in combination with adjectives.
- Zehn leckere Brötchen. (Ten tasty buns.)
- Er hat zwei coole Autos und ein Motorrad. (He has two cool cars and one motorcycle.)
If you want to learn more about this, have a look at the chapter about counting in German.
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