What Are French Ordinal Numbers and Fractions?

Most ordinal numbers and fractions are written the same

Blue Ruibbon
Première place.

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Ordinal numbers (les nombres ordinaux) are used to express rank or position, in other words, ordinal numbers are used for ordering, as opposed to cardinal numbers, which are used for counting.

Most French ordinal numbers and fractions (les fractions) are written the same. In English, they are identical from "third" on up, while in French they’re the same starting with cinquième.

Ordinal numbers

Fractions

first premier
première
1st 1er
1re
second deuxième 2nd 2e 1/2, half un demi,
une demie
/ la moitié
third troisième 3rd 3e 1/3 un tiers
fourth quatrième 4th 4e 1/4 un quart
fifth cinquième 5th 5e 1/5 un cinquième
sixth sixième 6th 6e 1/6 un sixième
seventh septième 7th 7e 1/7 un septième
eighth huitième 8th 8e 1/8 un huitième
ninth neuvième 9th 9e 1/9 un neuvième
tenth dixième 10th 10e 1/10 un dixième
3/4 trois quarts
2/5 deux cinquièmes

A Few Rules of the Road

1. Other than demitiers, and quart, all French fractions are based on their corresponding cardinal numbers. Note that when the cardinal number ends in -e, that letter is dropped before the fraction ending. 

cardinal number drop the final e (if any) add -ième
six six sixième
onze onz onzième
vingt et un vingt et un vingt et unième

2. Demi can be feminine when used as a noun or when it follows a noun. But when demi precedes a noun, it always remains in the masculine form. All other French fractions are always masculine and must be preceded by a number. If they’re followed by a noun, the preposition de is inserted as a go-between.

3. Premier ("first") is the only ordinal number that can be either masculine or feminine: premier (masculine) and première (feminine). Note that twenty-first, thirty-first and the like are always masculine.

A Few Pointers

  • Watch out for the spelling changes from cinq to cinquième and neuf to neuvième.
  • Ordinal numbers are not used in dates in French, except for premier .
  • To transform a compound fraction such as trois quarts into an adjective, add a hyphen, like this: un trois-quarts violon > a three-quarters-size violin
  • Fractions and ordinal numbers are abbreviated differently. The fraction un cinquième can only be abbreviated 1/5, whereas the ordinal cinquième is shortened to 5e.