Getting to Know German Verb Tenses
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Basic German: Large Numbers

Basic German: Ordinal Numbers

Ordinal numbers are the kinds of numbers that show what order things come in. You need ordinal numbers when you’re talking about das Datum (dâs dah-toom) (the date), die Feiertage (dee fay-er-tah-ge) (the holidays), die Stockwerke in einem Hotel (dee shtok-ver-ke in ayn-em hoh-tel) (the floors in a hotel), and stuff like that.

Ordinal numbers function as adjectives, so they have the adjective endings you normally use in a sentence. The general rule for forming ordinal numbers is to add -te to the numbers 1 through 19 and then -ste to the numbers 20 and higher. For example, Nach der achten Tasse Kaffee, ist er am Schreibtisch eingeschlafen. (naH dêr âHt-en tah-se -fey ist êr âm shrayp-tish ayn-ge-shlâf-en.) (After the eighth cup of coffee, he fell asleep on the desk.)

This rule has four exceptions:

  • erste (êrs-te) (first)

  • dritte (dri-te) (third)

  • siebte (zeep-te) (seventh)

  • achte (âHt-e) (eighth)

For example, Reinhold Messner war der erste Mensch, der Mount Everest ohne Sauerstoffmaske bestieg. (rayn-hold mês-ner vahr dêr êrs-te mênsh, dêr mount everest [as in English] oh-ne zou-er-shtof-mahs-ke be-shteeg.) (Reinhold Messner was the first person to climb Mt. Everest without an oxygen mask.)

Here are two other adjectives you need to know when putting things in order: letzte (lets-te) (last) and nächste (naiH-ste) (next). You can use them to refer to any sequence of numbers, people, or things.

To write dates as numerals, write the digit followed by a period: Der 1. Mai ist ein Feiertag in Deutschland. (dêr êrs-te may ist ayn fay-er-tâg in doych-lânt.) (May 1st is a holiday in Germany.) In case you’re wondering, the same sentence with a spelled-out date looks like this: Der erste Mai ist ein Feiertag in Deutschland.

Look at the examples of ordinal numbers in this table. The first column shows the ordinal numbers as numerals, or digits, the second column shows the same ordinal numbers as words, and the third column shows how to say on the . . . fifth floor, sixth of December, and so on.

Ordinal Numbers
Ordinals as Numerals Ordinals as Words On the . . .
1st der erste (dêr êrs-te) (the first) am ersten (âm êrs-ten) (on the first)
2nd der zweite (dêr tsvay-te) (the second) am zweiten (âm tsvay-ten) (on the second)
3rd der dritte (dêr dri-te) (the third) am dritten (âm dri-ten) (on the third)
4th der vierte (dêr feer-te) (the fourth) am vierten (âm feer-ten) (on the fourth)
5th der fünfte (dêr fuenf-te) (the fifth) am fünften (âm fuenf-ten) (on the fifth)
6th der sechste (dêr zêks-te) (the sixth) am sechsten (âm zêks-ten) (on the sixth)
7th der siebte (dêr zeep-te) (the seventh) am siebten (âm zeep-ten) (on the seventh)
18th der achtzehnte (dêr âHt- tseyn -te) (the eighteenth) am achtzehnten (âm âHt-tseyn-ten) (on the eighteenth)
22nd der zweiundzwanzigste (dêr tsvay-oont-tsvân-tsiH-ste) (the twenty-second) am zweiundzwanzigsten (âm tsvay-oont-tsvân-tsiH-sten) (on the twenty-second)

Note: In the table, you see how to formulate the expression on the (first). It’s am (âm) + ordinal number + en (en). Am is the contraction of an (ân) (on) + dem (deym) (the); you form it by taking the preposition an, which uses the dative case here, plus dem, the masculine dative of der (dêr) (the). You need to show dative case agreement with the adjective erste (first), so you add -n: erste + n = ersten.

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