If math describes how the world works, numbers are the alphabet that makes math possible. In this lesson, we will discover all about them.

How to Use "Numbers" in the English Language

How Do We Use Numbers in English?

There are two common kinds of numbers:

  • Cardinal Numbers
  • Ordinal Numbers

Cardinal Numbers

Cardinal numbers (also called cardinals) are used to show a general number of people, animals, or things such as two, six, twelve, five hundred. They show how many of those things or people there are.


Cardinal numbers are commonly used as determiners. In other words, they are typically used before nouns.

I love my pets. I have two dogs, one cat and five hamsters.

When used as a determiner, they can also take pre-determiners such as articles or possessive determiners before them. For example:

My two dogs are called Jay-Jay and Milly.

We can use cardinal numbers with the structure:

cardinal numbers + of + determiners

Five of my friends are college graduates.


Cardinal numbers can also be used as nouns:

People came to the theater in twos and threes.

Numbers Bigger Than Twenty

If you want to write numbers bigger than twenty, you should use a hyphen between parts of the compound number. In other words, hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine. For example:

thirty-three trees, twenty-seven books

Numbers Bigger Than 100

With numbers bigger than 100, you should use a hyphen between compound numbers after the word 'and.'
For 100, we can either use the definite article 'a' or use 'one.'

a/one hundred and thirty-three

eight hundred and seventy-nine

In American English, people normally do not use the word 'and':

three hundred fifty-six

Numbers Bigger Than 1,000

For numbers bigger than 1,000, put a hyphen between compound numbers and use the word 'and'. You can
use either the definite article 'a' or 'one' for 1,000.

Remember to use a comma to separate three digits → 80,000.

a/one thousand (and) one hundred (and) twenty-one

In American English and is mostly not used.

three hundred (and) five thousand (and) two hundred (and) thirty-four

Number 0

The number 0 has many names:

  • in telephone numbers, codes, etc. → oh
  • in measurements and temperature → zero
  • in British English → nought
  • in sports commentary → nil
  • in tennis → love

What Are Ordinal Numbers?

Ordinal numbers are used to show the position of something in a list or in a row, that's why we call them ordinal. Here are a few examples:

This is the third time you call me, what do you want from me?

She is the eleventh in the queue.

How to Make Ordinal Numbers?

Most of the numbers get th at the end to change to an ordinal number except the first three numbers. Check out the table below:

first twentieth
second thirtieth
third fortieth
fourth fiftieth
fifth sixtieth
sixth seventieth
seventh eightieth
eighth ninetieth
ninth hundredth
tenth thousandth

Now let us take a look at the numbers that have two parts such as twenty-one:

twenty-first one hundred and thirty-first
twenty-second two hundred and forty-fifth
twenty-third three hundred and fifty-seventh

When Do We Use Ordinal Numbers?

Ordinal numbers are used in many different cases as follows:

  • fractions
  • Roman numbers
  • telling the dates
  • talking about centuries

Here are a few examples for each:

Two-eighth of the cake is mine.


Alice III → Alice the third.

Roman number

My birthday is on June the sixth.

telling the dates

The castle was built in the thirteenth century.

talking about centuries

How to Write Ordinal Numbers

When we want to write the ordinal numbers in the number form you should use the last two letters in a smaller form after the cardinal number, for example:

  • first = 1st
  • second = 2nd
  • third = 3rd
  • fourth = 4th


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