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Lesson 2: Grammar - Numerals 


Photo: Flickr / Peter Forret (CC BY-NC 2.0)

During this lesson you will take a look at the numerals in English. After reading the material, do the exercises on that subject.


Numerals are divided into two groups: cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers.

Cardinal numbers have no specific ending but ordinal numbers do. In most cases the ending is - th but there are three other ones. In addition, you also need to use the definite article with ordinal numbers.

1st – the first

2nd – the second

3rd – the third

4th – the fourth


Use the ending

-st with all "firsts" – the 21st, the 31st, the 101st etc.

-nd with all "seconds" – the 42nd, the 62nd, the 302nd etc.

-rd with all "thirds" – the 23rd, the 73rd, the 503rd etc.

-th with all other numbers.


As you can see, the ordinal numbers the first, the second, and the third are very different from their cardinal counterparts one, two and three whereas the fourth only has had the ending -th added to four. There are some other changes in spelling:

five – the fifth

eight – the eighth (you only add -h)

nine – the ninth

twelve – the twelfth

twenty – twentieth ; in all multiples of ten, the -y becomes -ie-


Use Roman numerals in names

  • Richard III (read: Richard the third) is a historical play written by William Shakespeare.

  • John D. Rockefeller IV has been a strong supporter of the National Gallery of Art.


Ordinal numbers are of course used to express order but you also need to use them in fractions.

2/3 – two thirds

4/5 – four fifths

Mike owns two fifths of the production company.

More than two thirds of the tickets were sold in advance.


However, there are two exceptions: half and quarter

½ – one/a half

¼ – one quarter

¾ – three quarters

Source: en.wikipedia.org


About spelling and usage

Spell out single-digit numbers in writing

  • Dennis has five paintings in his living room.

  • They say cats have nine lives.

  • The art gallery on 63rd Street has about 40 new paintings for sale.


Hyphenate all compound numbers from 21 to 99 and spell out all numbers in the beginnings of sentences.

  • Eighty-four people auditioned for the role of Maria.

  • Twenty-three percent of directors on independent films are female.

  • Six new students were selected to study classical guitar.


Use a decimal point, not a comma, in English

  • A Stradivarius violin was sold for £9.8 million in an online auction.

  • This set of paint brushes costs $31.05 regularly.

  • Those clips cost 0.62 cents apiece. (read "zero point six two")

NB. In cases like the last example, the zero before the decimal point is not always pronounced so you would read it "point six two". Sometime the zero is also left out in writing (.62).

When talking about percentages, you can use the % symbol but writing
per cent / percent is more common in everyday English

  • The price of annual subscriptions was raised by 25 per cent.

  • It is estimated that 28 percent of Americans read e-books.

Hundreds and tens are usually separated with and but in American English it's often left out

  • This movie theater has one hundred and forty seats.

  • Three hundred and thirty-six tickets have been sold so far.

When the number has four or more digits, they are
separated with commas into sets of three digits (counting from the right)

6,800 – six thousand eight hundred; in AmE you can also say "sixty-eight hundred"



  • The City Arts Council allocated $42,000 to the restoration of the old theater building.

  • Replacing the seats will cost £1,600 or more. 


Remember to use a or one with these (also when you speak)

100 – one hundred / a hundred

1,000 – one/a thousand

1,000,000 – one/a million

NB! One/A billion used to mean two different things in British and American English, but nowadays both use the originally American English figure: a thousand million or 1,000,000,000. However, in many countries a billion has 12 zeroes.

½ – one/a half

1/3 – one/a third

¼ – one/a quarter

  • Have you ever read A Thousand and One Nights?

  • Our local paper gave the movie three and a half stars.

  • The play lasted one and a half hours.


Use the singular of the words dozen, hundred, thousand, million and billion when you have a numeral or a couple of / a few / several preceding them

  • Only a few dozen people have ever seen her paintings.

  • The costumes alone will cost several thousand pounds.

  • There were over nine hundred people singing as one choir that day!


Numbers are usually written in the singular but the same words – dozen, hundred, thousand, million and billion – can be used in the plural when they are not modified by another number or expression like those mentioned above

  • Dozens of stolen paintings were discovered in an old warehouse.

  • Hundreds of students applied to the art school again this year.

  • That statue must be worth millions!


and look at some movie trivia:

Numbers in Titles



Time and date

In English-speaking countries, the 24-hour system is used mainly by the military and sometimes when talking about schedules. The 12-hour system still dominates. Remember these:

a.m. / A.M. / am / AM – before noon

p.m. / P.M. / pm / PM – after noon

The band will leave from school at 6 a.m. and return at 11 p.m. or thereabouts.


past, half past and to

8.15 – a quarter past eight (a.m.)

20.20 – twenty past eight (p.m.)

8.30 – half past eight (sometimes "half eight" in the UK)

8.40 – twenty to nine (a.m.)

20.45 – a quarter to nine (p.m.)

  • Let's meet at the cinema at ten to six.

  • Maybe at a quarter to six would be better in case there is a long queue.


o'clock, noon and midnight

11.00 – eleven o'clock ; use o'clock only with even hours

12.00 a.m. – midnight ; usually spelled out

12.00 p.m. – noon ; usually spelled out

  • When did the movie Before Midnight come out?

  • Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly starred in High Noon and Gregory Peck in Twelve O'Clock High.


Keep these in mind:

  • a fortnight – two weeks

  • a decade – 10 years

  • a century – 100 years

  • a millennium – 1000 years

  • in the 1990s

  • the 16th century – the 1500s (the fifteen hundreds)

  • the 20th century – the 1900s

  • 2000 - – in the two thousands


Source: en.wikipedia.org



In English the month is usually spelled out. Remember that if numbers are used, in American English the month comes first

3/6/14 – March 6, 2014

British English :

6 March / 6th March – the sixth of March

6(th) March 2014 – the sixth of March two thousand and fourteen

the 6th of March, 2014


American English :

March 6 / March 6th – March the sixth

March 6(th), 2014

March the sixth, 2014 

  • What is the deadline for the grant application? It's June 6, 2014. / It's 6 June 2014.

  • Doris Lessing was born on 22 October 1919.


 Exercise 2.1 Numerals

Write the following in English – don’t use any numbers in 1-5 but spell them out.

1. 9561


2. 64644


3. 6½


4. 14 3/4


5. 54.95


6. 16.02.1998


7. 1500-luvulla


8. 1980-luvulla


9. vuonna 1649


10. Kello on 14.57.


 Exercise 2.2 Numerals - Listen and Write

Listen to the five sentences below and write them down in the answer boxes. Pay attention to your spelling of proper nouns!

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.







Otavan Opisto / Tarja Männikkö, Arto Silén ja Heli Viitanen

© 2015 Otavan Opisto