How To Use Ordinal Numbers in Spanish

How To Use Ordinal Numbers in Spanish

numbered race track lanes

Today we will learn how to use ordinal numbers and what functions they have in Spanish sentences. Let’s get started!

What are ordinal numbers for?

An ordinal number, or ordinal, indicates the specific position of an element within an organized sequence. In the following table, you can see the most common ordinal numbers in Spanish and their English equivalents:

Ordinals in SpanishEnglish Equivalents
primero (m) or primer before a masculine noun, primera (f)first
segundo (m), segunda (f)second
tercero (m) or tercer before a masculine noun, tercera (f)third
cuarto (m), cuarta (f)fourth
quinto (m), quinta (f)fifth
sexto (m), sexta (f)sixth
séptimo (m), séptima (f)seventh
octavo (m), octava (f)eighth
noveno (m), novena (f)ninth
décimo (m), décima (f)tenth

Now, let’s take a look at this example:

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The patient has been to four hospitals and this sentence talks about the fourth one in the sequence. If we wanted to just mention the number of hospitals, we would use a cardinal number to say La paciente ha visitado cuatro hospitales (The patient has visited four hospitals.)

Ordinals up to décimo (tenth) are the most commonly used in the Spanish language. Any numbers beyond that rarely come up. Some contexts where you would use bigger ordinals include talking about an anniversary, for example Mis padres están celebrando su trigésimo aniversario de bodas. (My parents are celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary.)

Ordinals reflect noun gender

Unlike cardinal numbers, ordinals in Spanish vary in gender. This is because they often function as adjectives in a sentence, where they appear before a noun. They therefore take on the same gender of the element they are referring to or describing. 

A cocktail on the white sands of a beach; the clear blue ocean on the background merges with a cerulean sky dotted by puffy clouds.
That is one refreshingly cool beverage!
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In these examples, we can see that the first ordinal tercera is feminine because bebida is also feminine. In the second sentence, the masculine ordinal segundo refers to cuarto, a masculine noun. An important spelling difference occurs with primero and tercero, which become primer and tercer when they appear before a masculine noun.

Note: The polysemous word cuarto can refer to the ordinal number “fourth” or a bedroom. In the above sentence, it means the latter.

How to form plural ordinal numbers

When ordinal numbers refer to plural elements, they also take an -s at the end. This is because they reflect the number as well as the gender of the noun they precede.

Here, the ordinals terceros and primeras have an -s at the end because they are plural, just like the nouns they refer to, Juegos and pulgadas.

Now you’re ready to use the ordinal numbers in your Spanish conversations!

Written by Isabel Matos