Numbers are classified in grammar into two main groups: Cardinal and Ordinal.
There are young people here.
There are many people here.
There are six people here.
Note that in a sentence such as:
There are thirty here.
the number is still an adjective but the noun is assumed:
There are thirty [people/biscuits/houses] here.
We use cardinal numbers to answer the question, how many?
1, 2, 3, 4… 40, 50, 60, 100
one, two, three, four… forty, fifty, sixty… one hundred
We use ordinal numbers to answer the question, in which order?
first, second, third, fourth… fortieth, fiftieth, sixtieth, hundredth
the first person to arrive
Tim was the second child.
Kathryn Parr was the sixth wife of Henry the Eighth.
To create an ordinal number, just add -th to the cardinal spelling:
four > fourth
nine > ninth
The exceptions are:
one > first
two > second
three > third
five > fifth
eight > eighth
nine > ninth
twelve > twelfth
In writing, we can use a shorthand of
1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th… 40th, 50th, 60th, 100th
In other words,we use just the last two letters of the ordinal number. Note also that in compound ordinal numbers only the last figure is written as an ordinal number:
62nd = sixty second
143rd = hundred and forty third
0 – Zero
As a cardinal number, 0 has several different forms:
- oh (as in telephone numbers, 007, etc)
- nought (as in mathematics, etc)
- nil (as in football scores, etc)
- nothing (as in scores, etc)
- zero (as in mathematics, telephone numbers, science, etc)
- love (as in tennis: thirty-love)
It is also a special case in that it does not have an ordinal version.
When we deal with a smaller number than 1, we use either fractions or decimals:
three and a quarter – two and a half – twenty-six and three-quarters
3¼ – 2½ – 26¾
three point two five – two point five – twenty six point seven five
3.25 – 2.5 – 26.75
Roman numerals are used in select cases, notably in titles and sometimes as year dates. In titles we add a the between the title and the number:
Henry VIII > Henry the Eighth
John IX > John the Ninth
Exceptions are cases like Word War II which is said as World War Two.
In writing we can use either digits:
or we can spell out the number:
one thousand two hundred and four point five
Good style guides suggest you should use a word at the beginning of a sentence but, if the writing is informal, you can use a digit inside the sentence.
Three cars tried to overtake the four buses.
Three cars tried to overtake the 4 buses.
* 3 cars tried to overtake the four buses.
* The asterisk is used to show this is an error.Image © nataliej