How To Use Spanish Ordinal Numbers
Who's on first?, What's on second? -- So begins the famous comedy routine by Abbott and Costello. Who's on first is a dialog between comedians Abbott and Costello about baseball players and a misunderstanding about what bases the different players are on at the moment.
Now, notice that in this Abbott and Costello bit, the bases the players are on are refferred to by Ordinal Numbers. Who's on first, What's on second, etc. -- We don't have to think about using ordinal numbers much in English -- They just seem to get used and naturally sound correct. Now that we've got a good idea of what the word ordinal numbers means, let's look at ordinal numbers in Spanish.
Although you don't hear much about them, we naturally use ordinal numbers in English and hardly have to think about it. In fact, you can speak English all your life and not even know what an ordinal number is. but to know Spanish well and understand Spanish grammar and parts of speech, you'll want to have at least a cursory understanding of what ordinal number actually are.
Ordinal numbers are simply Adjectives, used to describe a person, place, or thing. The ordinal numbers arrange things in a certain order, and place a noun they describe in it's proper place among other related nouns.
Keep in mind that Adjectives have to agree with the nouns they describe in number and gender. Likewise, ordinal numbers too must agree in number and gender with their nouns.
Here is a list of the first ten ordinal numbers in Spanish and English:
- primero - first
- segundo - second
- tercero - third
- cuarto - fourth
- quinto - fifth
- sexto - sixth
- setimo (septimo) - seventh
- octavo - eighth
- noveno - ninth
- decimo - tenth
Here is a list of example Spanish phrases that use ordinal numbers.
- la segunda vez - the second time
- en primer lugar - in first place
- el tercer dia - the third day
- mi segunda idioma - my second language
- el segundo capitulo - the second chapter
It's important to know that the Spanish words for first and third, primero and tercero, drop their ending letter o when they come before any masculine, singular noun. For example, to say my first son, you would say or write, mi primer hijo. If you say mi primero hijo, it would probably be understood but it wouldn't sound correct to a Spanish speaker.
Also, if you read much Spanish you'll come across abbreviations for Ordinal Numbers in Spanish. The same way English writes this 2nd to say second -- Spanish will have the abbreviation 2o to express the word segundo. You'll see abbreviations like these show up a lot where space for words is limited, such as in advertising copy.
By the way, if you're interested in seeing the Abbott and Costello routine, Who's on first, it's available on Youtube.