This post is about the practical use of the Spanish ordinal numbers in general and more specifically about apocopation of the ordinals “primero” and “tercero”.
Imagine you are talking to a relative, a friend or a colleague. The other person has just learned that you have been studying Spanish for a while and says to you something like: "tell me, is this your first year of Spanish?".
In Spanish, the other person could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿es este tu primer año de español?
On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿es este su primer año de español?
The question in Spanish is an invitation for you to say whether or not this is your first year studying Spanish. When you say something referring only to yourself, you DO NOT need to be concerned about the level of formality in the other person's question. You may concentrate on just saying whether or not this is your first year studying Spanish.
Here are some examples of what you could say:
- Sí, es mi primer* año de español (yes, this is my first year of Spanish);
- No, no es mi primer* año de español (no, this isn't my first year of Spanish);
- No, no es el primero, este es mi tercer* año de español (no, this is not my first year, this is my third year of Spanish);
Now you should practice replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿es el primer año que estudias español?
*Please see grammar below: Ordinal Numbers -Apocopation
The first twelve Spanish ordinal numbers are as follows:
first primero/ primera seventh séptimo/ séptima second segundo/ segunda eighth octavo/ octava third tercero/ tercera ninth noveno/ novena fourth cuarto/ cuarta tenth décimo/ décima fifth quinto/ quinta eleventh undécimo/ undécima sixth sexto/sexta twelfth duodécimo/ duodécima
Spanish ordinal numbers are used in much the same way as the English ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.). However, you should bear in mind the following:
1. Adjectives/ Pronouns
Spanish ordinal numbers can be treated as adjectives or pronouns. As such, they need to agree in gender and number with the noun they accompany/ refer to. Some examples of this are:
- El segundo año (the second year);
- La segunda vez (the second time);
- Soy el primero (I am the first -male speaking);
- Soy la primera (I am the first -female speaking);
- Los primeros minutos del día (the first minutes of the day);
- Las primeras semanas del año (the first weeks of the year);
- Somos los primeros (we the first -all male or mixed group);
- Somos las primeras (we are the first -all female group);
When abbreviating ordinal numbers in Spanish, their masculine and feminine forms should also be written differently. This is accomplished by adding an 0 (masculine) or an a (feminine) to the corresponding number. A couple of examples of this are:
- El 2.0 año (the 2nd year);
- La 5.a vez (the 5th time);
When used as adjectives and placed before a masculine singular noun the Spanish ordinal numbers primero and tercero are apocopated (they lose the ending -o). A couple of examples of this are:
- El primer año (the first year);
- El tercer día (the third day);
NB When the abbreviated ordinal numbers primero and tercero are placed before a masculine noun, the abbreviation should reflect the loss of the ending -o. This is accomplished by adding er to the corresponding number. A couple of examples of this are:
- El 1.er año (the 1st year);
- El 3.er día (the 3rd day);
In Spanish, we do not use ordinal numbers in dates/ days of the month*. An exception to this is the first day of each month, which may be referred to by the ordinal number primero. A couple of examples of this are:
- El primero de mayo (the first May);
- El primero de diciembre (the first of December);
*NB Dates/ days of the month are commonly expressed in Spanish using the corresponding cardinal numbers. A couple of example of this are:
- El uno de mayo (the first of May);
- El siete de julio (the seventh of July);
5. Ordinal Numbers Above Ten
The Spanish ordinals above ten* are often replaced by the corresponding cardinal numbers. This is an optional form of expression which tends to be quite common in less formal speech. An example of this is:
- El vigesimo aniversario (the twentieth anniversary)... often expressed as
- El veinte aniversario (the twentieth anniversary);
*NB An exception to this optional use is the case of monarchs and other titles and also centuries above ten, in which case ordinal numbers are not used in Spanish and cardinal numbers should be used always. Some examples this are:
- Alfonso doce/ Alfonso XII (Alphonse the twelfth);
- Juan veintitrés/ Juan XXIII (John the twenty third);
- El siglo veinte (the twentieth century);
Now you should practice using ordinal numbers with some examples of your own.
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