Just as cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers in German are set up in a particular fashion. Usually you take the cardinal form and add either the suffix “-te” or the suffix “-ste”. There are some exceptions to these rules though, which we will point out later.
Luckily there’s only a small amount of exceptions you have to learn. The other ordinals are constructed in the same repeating pattern, which is easy to understand and use.
And as the different genders in the German language are often posing a problem for students of the language, you may rejoice now! There is no difference in ordinal numbers, no matter which gender the subject you are referring to is. So you would say “der erste Buchstabe” (the first letter), as well as “die erste Reihe” (the first row) or “das erste Auto” (the first car).
But there is one more caveat many students tend to struggle with. And that is the capitalization of words, or in this case numbers.
When it comes to ordinal numbers, they are written with all small characters when they are used as an adjective as in “der sechste Sinn” (the sixth sense).
But they are capitalized when you omit the noun and use the number in a nominalization (instead of a noun). An example would be “der Erste, der die Ziellinie überquerte,” (meaning: the first to cross the finish line).
Table of Contents
- Ordinal Numbers in German 1 to 10
- Ordinal Numbers in German 11 to 20
- Ordinal Numbers in German 20 and beyond
- Multiples of One Hundred
Now, let’s go ahead and learn
Ordinal Numbers in German 1 to 10
- der / die / das erste – the first
- der / die / das zweite – the second
- der / die / das dritte – the third
- der / die / das vierte – the fourth
- der / die / das fünfte – the fifth
- der / die / das sechste – the sixth
- der / die / das siebte – the seventh
- der / die / das achte – the eighth
- der / die / das neunte – the ninth
- der / die / das zehnte – the tenth
The numbers 1 and 3 are special. For the 1 (Eins in German), you use a different word form altogether ending in “-ste”. In the case of 3, the correct ordinal form is “dritte”, not “dreite”. All the other numbers are the basic cardinal form with the suffix “-te”.
Did I just say “all of them?” What about the seven, I can hear you asking!? Well, the seven is a bit special. Both forms are possible. Either “der / die / das siebte”, but also “der / die / das siebente”. The latter form is a bit old-fashioned. It is often used when you want to be poetic or in combination with times or dates, as in “die siebente Stunde des siebenten Tages” (the seventh hour of the seventh day.)
Ordinal Numbers in German 11 to 20
Just as in the English language, only the first two are unusual, and you have to learn them. From 13 on, the numbers are logically constructed by combining the second decimal with the word “Zehn” for ten. A minor exception from this rule is the word “siebzehnte”. The two last letters from the cardinal number “Sieben” are omitted. So it “siebzehnte”, not “siebenzehnte”.
All of them end with the suffix “-te”.
- der / die / das elfte – the eleventh
- der / die / das zwölfte – the twelfth
- der / die / das dreizehnte – the thirteenth
- der / die / das vierzehnte – the fourteenth
- der / die / das fünfzehnte – the fifteenth
- der / die / das sechszehnte – the sixteenth
- der / die / das siebzehnte – the seventeenth
- der / die / das achtzehnte – the eighteenth
- der / die / das neunzehnte – the nineteenth
Ordinal Numbers in German 20 and beyond
From now on, the scheme is quite basic and repeats itself in a logic manner. So if you know the cardinal numbers, you can construct the ordinal number pretty quickly in German. You simply combine the number from the ones column (or units) with the number from the tens column with the conjunction “und” (and) and the suffix “-ste.” Different to English though, the ones come first.
- der / die / das zwanzigste – the twentiest
- der / die / das einundzwanzigste – the twenty-first
- der / die / das zweiundzwanzigste – the twenty-second
- der / die / das dreiundzwanzigste – the twenty-third
- der / die / das vierundzwanzigste – the twenty-fourth
- der / die / das fünfundzwanzigste – the twenty-fifth
- der / die / das sechsundzwanzigste – the twenty-sixth
- der / die / das siebenundzwanzigste – the twenty-seventh
- der / die / das achtundzwanzigste – the twenty-eighth
- der / die / das neunundzwanzigste – the twenty-ninth
- der / die / das dreissigste – the thirtiest
- der / die / das einunddreissigste – the thirty-first
- der / die / das vierzigste – the fourtiest
- der / die / das einundvierzigste – the fourty-first
Multiples of One Hundred
OK, so I said from 20 upwards the scheme is clear, repeatable and just pure logic. But as you know, there’s no rule without exception…
So when it comes to multiples of 100, we get a combination of the hundred column (or thousand, million…) and the rest is made up of the ordinals from 1 to 99. But the scheme is the same as it is in English, so you are probably familiar with it.
So, we get:
- der / die / das hundertste – the hundredth
- der / die / das hunderterste – the hundred first
- der / die / das hundertzweite – the hundred second
- der / die / das hundertzehnte – the hundred tenth
- der / die / das hundertelfte – the hundred eleventh
- der / die / das hundertzwölfte – the hundred twelfth
- der / die / das hundertdreizehnte – the hundred thirteenth
- der / die / das hundertzwanzigste – the hundred twentieth
- der / die / das tausendste – the thousandth
- der / die / das tausenderste – the thousand first
- der / die / das tausendzweite – the thousand second
So, these were the ordinal numbers in German. There are just a handful you have to remember, and the rest can be constructed with a combination of the first twelve ordinals and the basic cardinal numbers.