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Ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers denote a position in an ordered series: earste first, twadde second, tredde third, lêste last. In Frisian, most definite ordinal numbers are formed on the basis of cardinal numbers by means of a suffixation process (acht-ste eighth, santjin-de seventeenth). In general, ordinals behave like (absolute) adjectives that can be used both attributively: hy wennet yn it tredde hûs he lives in the third house and predicatively: hy is tredde wurden he has third become he finished third.

This article contains the following sections:

[+]Formation of ordinals

Ordinal numbers are usually formed on the basis of cardinal numbers by means of a suffix. The table below gives a few examples of ordinal numbers, preceded by the corresponding cardinal number.

Table 1
0 nul-de 10 tsien-de 50 fyftich-ste
1 earste 11 alf-de 60 sech(s)tich-ste
2 twad-de 12 tolf-de 70 santich-ste
3 tred-de 13 trett(s)jin-de 80 tachtich-ste
4 fjir-de 14 fjirt(s)jin-de 90 njoggentich-ste
5 fiif-de 15 fyftjin-de 100 hûndert-ste
6 sech(s)-de 20 twintich-ste 1000 tûzen-ste
7 sân-de 21 ienentwintich-ste 1.000.000 miljoen-ste
8 acht-ste 30 tritich-ste miljard-ste
9 njoggen-de 40 fjirtich-ste
After a look at the table above, some general remarks can be made about the Frisian ordinal formation:

  • Ordinals above the number 19 all take the suffix -ste. The suffix -de occurs on the ordinals below 20 when the cardinal number ends in a voiced segment, as in san-de seventh, njoggen-de ninth, fjirtjin-de fourteenth. Besides, the suffix occurs in nulde zero, twadde second, tredde third, fjirde fourth, fiifde fifth (also fyfte and fyfste), sechde sixth (also: sechsde/sechste sixth), alfde eleventh (also: alfte/alfste eleventh) and tolfde twelfth (also tolfte/tolfste twelfth). After voiceless consonants we have -ste: acht-ste eighth. Reanalysis of the voice of the final consonant may have yielded the above-mentioned variants fyfste, sechste sixth, alfste eleventh and tolfste twelfth. Such a reanalysis may also be at the basis of the forms fyfte fifth, alfte eleventh and tolfte twelfth, with a possible assimilation of the suffix -de. An exception to the voice condition is earste first, which is irregular anyway.
  • In case of twa > twadde two - second, fiif > fyfde/fyfte/fyfste five - fifth, sân > sande seven - seventh the vowel has undergone shortening. The unshortened variants fiif - fiifde five - fifth and sân > sânde seven seventh exist as well.
  • The stems in ien > earste one - first, trije > tredde three - third, fjouwer -fjirde four - fourth, seis - sech(s)de six - sixth are irregular. Another suppletive form is foarste first, which is getting obsolete. It is nowadays mainly restricted to fixed expressions as yn it foarste plak in the first place. The form is etymologically related to the preposition foar for; before. Also the cardinal twa two has, next to regular twadde, a suppletive form, i.e. oard second, etymologically related to oar other. This suppletive form is also becoming extinct; it only survives in the written language.
  • Ordinals for complex numerals are created by using the ordinal form of the last numeral only. For example: hûndert-fjirtich-ste 140th vs. *hûnderste-fjirtich. Irregular forms of ordinals such as earste first recur in the ordinals for complex numerals (hûndert en earste one hundred first, not *hûndert en iende).
[+]Indefinite ordinals

The indefinite ordinals are middelste central, lêste last, safolste umpteenth and hoefolste how many, what number.

The word lêst(e) final, last is an ordinal without a cardinal counterpart. On the other hand, certain indefinite cardinals such as in bytsje few, little and folle many, much do not have a corresponding ordinal. Just like earste first, lêste last is a superlative form historically.

[+]Ordinals as adjectives
  • In general, ordinals behave like (absolute) adjectives in that they can be used both attributively and predicatively:
    Example 1

    a. Attributive use
    Hy wennet yn it tredde hûs
    he lives in the third house
    He lives in the third house
    b. Predicative use
    Hy is tredde wurden
    he is third become
    He finished third
  • Ordinal numbers, however, do not show adjectival inflection, that is, they invariably end in -e [ə], as can be detected from their predicative use. Normal adjectives such as read red have two forms: in read hûs a red house vs. it reade hûs the read house. For ordinal numbers, the lack of a final schwa is impossible: *in twad hûs a second house vs. it twadde hûs the second house. Hence, we have in twadde hûs a second house and not *in twad hûs.
    [hide extra information]

    See for the inherent ending in a schwa and its consequences Hoekstra (1989). See also Pseudo deviations.

  • From the absolute meaning of ordinal numerals it follows that degree modification and comparison are impossible:

    Example 2

    a. *Hy wie mear twadde as syn broer
    he was more second as his brother
    He was more second than his brother
    b. *He wie krekt sa twadde as syn broer
    he was just as second as his brother
    He was equally second as his brother

    Approximative modification, however, is possible. Certain approximators can occur both before and after the determiner:

    Example 3

    a. Dit is de likernôch hûndertste kear datsto dit seist
    this is the approximately hundredth time that.you this says
    This is about the hundredth time you say so
    b. Dit is likernôch de hûndertste kear datsto dit seist
    this is approximately the hundredth time that.you this says
    This is about the hundredth time you say so

    The elements earste first and lêste last are superlatives originally and, just like most other superlatives, they can be prefixed with the strengthening prefix alder-, as in de alder-earste auto the first car ever. Lêste is also part of the following construction:

    Example 4

    a. ien-nei-lêste
    one but last
    b. twa-nei-lêste
    second but last
[+]Ordinals in elliptic constructions

In case of nominal ellipsis with a clear antecedent, next to the default form the ending -en and -enien may appear (see Dyk (2011:16)):

Example 5

Ik haw al trije glêzen bier hân, mar ik mei ek noch wol in fjirde/fjirden/fjirdenien
I have already three glasses beer had, but I like also still PART a fourth/fourth-en/fourth-enien
I already had three glasses of beer, but I would like a fourth

These elliptical endings also occur after adjectives, see special elliptic suffixes.

Ordinals may also show special suffixes in an absolute elliptical construction, where the notion 'participant' seems to be omitted. The suffix -e can be deleted with a stem tred third as a result, but also the endings -s, -es and -st may show up here (see Dyk (2011:63)). Thus we can get:

Example 6

Gurbe is tredde/tred/treds/treddes/tredst
Gurbe is third
Gurbe has the third position

It can be seen from this example that something special is at stake, semantically speaking. Usually, there is a semantic equation between the attributive and predicative use. Thus from Gurbe is âld Gurbe is old we can infer the attributive de âlde Gurbe the old Gurbe. However, from the example above it is impossible to infer *de tredde Gurbe the third Gurbe. If we did so, we would have a set of at least three Gurbes, which is not what is meant in this context. Rather, the example above implies that there is a set with a minimum of three participants. Hence, all the variants of the example above invoke that something like 'participant' has been omitted. It should further be noted that all these special forms only show up without a preceding article. So for instance, *in treddes a third or *de treddes the third are unacceptable.

[hide extra information]

In an expression like Willem de tredde Willem the third, the combination of the name and the numeral indicates a title of a person. In this case it means that Willem is the third king of the Netherlands with that name.

Frisian has a suffix -ens which can be used in an enumeration (see Dyk (2011:68)):

Example 7

Earstens is it sa dat ..., twaddens moat sein wurde dat ..., en treddens ...
first-ens is it so that ..., second-ens should said been that ..., and third-ens ...
Firstly is it the case that ..., secondly it should be said that..., and thirdly ...

Note that there is no preceding preposition in front of the numeral. There is an alternative suffix available, i.e. -s. Thus instead of twaddens or treddens, one could also say twads or treds. This suffix cannot be attached to the initial numeral, so *earsts is ungrammatical. Especially in the written language an alternative system without suffixes exists. Among others, it uses some older suppletive forms: foarst firstly, oard secondly, tred thirdly, fjird, etc.

[+]Morphological potential of ordinals

Ordinal numbers are one of the building blocks of fractions, for example: trijefjirde three fourth (see fractions).

Ordinals also occur in a number of univerbations such as twaddemacht second power, tredderangs third rank, fjirdeklasser fourth grader, etc. These univerbations are all examples of subconstructions with their own syntactic properties and morphological potential. For instance, twaddemacht second power is the first of a potentially non-finite series that may occur in larger syntactic constructions such as fjouwer-ta-de-twadde-macht four to the power of two. It may also occur in morphological constructions like tredde-machts-ferliking cubic equation.

Apart from that, ordinal numbers have very little morphological potention: although they behave syntactically more or less like adjectives, they do not show adjectival inflection, and comparative and superlative formation is impossible. Derivational processes that take adjectives as input (ûn- prefixation, -eftich suffixation, etc.) fail to apply to ordinals as well.

[hide extra information]

More about the syntactic aspects of Ordinals may be found in the Attribution in the syntactic part of Taalportaal.

  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Dyk, Siebren2011The morphology of Frisian nominal ellipsis
  • Hoekstra, Jarich1989Ús nij hûsFriesch Dagblad08-07Taalsnipels 113