French Number Expressions

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

Floor System Differences

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

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)

Two Words for the Same Number in French

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?)

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