Learn French Number Expressions

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There are several confusing pairs and difficult expressions related to French numbers.

I. The numbering system of the floors in a building may be difficult for American English speakers.

                                     American English       British English

Rez-de-chaussée        First floor                       Ground floor

Premier étage              Second floor                 First floor

Deuxième étage          Third floor                      Second floor


II. The meaning of premier changes depending on the preposition that precedes it.

Au premier               At/On the first

Au premier étage    On the second floor    On the first floor

En premier              The first in a sequence

En premier lieu       In the first place, Firstly

De premier/première (prix, qualité)  The top (prize) or best (quality)

III. There are two French words for the English ordinal number "second" (2nd): second  and deuxième. They are essentially interchangeable, but there is a general, not always followed guideline:

Second is often used when something is the second in a series of only two things.

Deuxième tends to be used when there's a third, fourth, etc.

Following this guideline allows you to add some interesting nuances to your words.

La seconde guerre mondiale  World War II (the second and last)

La deuxième guerre mondiale  World War II (the second of how many?)

IV. There are two words for "third" and "fourth" - one for the ordinal number and another for the fraction

troisième    third (in a series)

un tiers       one third

quatrième    fourth (in a series)

un quart     one fourth