Ordinal numbers

All ordinal numbers can be written in Dutch with a superscript “e” but that isn’t the case in English: first, second and third each need the last two letters to be used.

Dutch authors are aware of the issue, but it seems to slip from the mind at times.

  • it goes entirely with the spoken form, including larger numbers such as 42nd, 101st or even 17,273rd
  • it also applies to compound words, for instance 21st-century, 2nd-class and 3rd-party, if not written out in full.
  • going with the spoken form rather than the final digit therefore also means 11th hour, 12th man, 113th birthday, etc.

(Just a quick post today because real-world deadlines are once again intruding.)

Prevalence: high. The automatism of translating the superscript “e” to a superscript “th” seems to be surprisingly ingrained.
Frequency: moderate. Gets forgotten in larger ordinal numbers in particular.
Native: no. We’re used to thinking of it as a shorthand for the spoken word, instead of just being a stray letter or symbol.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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