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Ordinal Numbers


Hey guys,

This is probably a stupid question.

I was taught that ordinal numbers in spanish only went from 1 to 10 (primer/o - décimo).

But, my spanish dictionary gives me ordinals for tons of different numbers.
For example,
undécimo = 11th
vigésimo = 20th
quincuagésimo = 50th
trigésimo primero = 31st.......

Where my teachers correct and my dictionary is just stupid? Are the higher ordinals not used as often''''?

Thanks in advance for the help
You guys are awesome!!

  • James
updated FEB 27, 2009
posted by noxinvictus

4 Answers


I'll add some subjective remarks to Quentin's explanation:

From 11th to 19th, the traditional ordinal numbers are used sometimes, but not by everyone and in all occasions. You'll impress some people with your knowledge, but don't abuse it.
From 20th to 39th, the traditional ordinal numbers are used a even less than between 11th and 19th. You'll be showing a good command of very formal Spanish if you use it in an academic or formal situation. Mind your audience.
From 40th to 49th, the traditional ordinal numbers are used very little. Some people will be wondering whether you're trying to show off, or you've just swollen a dictionary.
From 50th to 99th you are going to sound unnecessarily pedantic, and because of that, you may be banned from some bars and other places where people like simple and natural talk (I'm joking).

The ordinals 100th is frequently used, and 1000th and 1000,000th are used all the time. However, use the ordinals in the range 200th - 999th at your peril.

updated NOV 6, 2010
posted by lazarus1907

It is useful to know vigésimo passively, at least. It shows up in written Spanish from time to time.

One of my favorite Spanish words enésimo. grin

updated FEB 27, 2009
posted by Natasha

It's just that the higher ordinals aren't used as often... and also many Spanish speakers don't know them!

Many people say "onceavo" instead of "undécimo" and so on... [url=http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A1304675#]http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A1304675#[/url]

updated FEB 26, 2009
posted by AntMexico


For larger numbers, it is common to use simply the cardinal number, especially in speech. Thus el siglo veinte ("the 20th century") is more common than the cardinal form, el siglo vigésimo, and in writing the numerical form (el siglo 20) is often used. It is also common to word a sentence in such a way that the ordinal form is not used. So, for example, cumple cuarenta y cinco años would be the most common way of saying it is someone's 45th birthday. In general, the ordinal numbers for 11th and above can be considered mostly a formal usage.

updated FEB 25, 2009
posted by 0074b507
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