Arabic numbers II: the ordinals

Last time we dealt with the cardinal numbers, which have to do with quantity. There’s a second aspect to numbers, the ordinals, which have to do with rank or position in sequence. So in English we have “one, two, three, four, etc.,” and “first, second, third, fourth, etc.” Arabic is no different. The Arabic ordinal numbers are formed by taking the tri-consonant root (فعل) of the name of the cardinal number, and turning it into a form I active participle (فاعِل), except for “first,” which is irregular. Since ordinals are adjectives and have to correspond to the gendered nouns they are modifying, they can take the feminine marker (usually ة, though the feminine form of “first” is, again, irregular) when needed. Below are masculine and feminine singular (can ordinal numbers ever be plural? they’re always by definition describing just one item in a sequence, right?) forms for the ordinal numbers from “first” through “tenth” (no “zeroeth,” sorry):

First = أوَّل (awwal); أولى (ūlá)

Second = ثاني (thānī); ثانية (thānīyah)

Third = ثالِث (thālith); ثالِثة (thālithah)

Fourth = رابِع (rābiʿ); رابِعة (rābiʿah)

Fifth = خامِس (khāmis); خامِسة (khāmisah)

Sixth = سادِس (sādis); سادِسة (sādisah)

Seventh = سابِع (sābiʿ); سابِعة (sābiʿah)

Eighth = ثامِن (thāmin); ثامِنة (thāminah)

Ninth = تاسِع (tāsiʿ); تاسِعة (tāsiʿah)

Tenth = عاشِر (ʿāshir); عاشِرة (ʿāshirah)

If there’s a way to represent these numerically, as we do in English with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, I’ve never seen it.

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Arabic Numbers and Numerals, 0-10

If you’re looking for higher numbers, they’re here.

So I’m being somewhat misleading with that post title, since what we’re really going to be learning are the Eastern Arabic numerals; presumably anybody reading this already knows the Western Arabic numerals, since they’re the ones we use in English. Arabs took the Indian numeric system, made some alterations, and then passed a variant of that system on to Europeans, which is why we call them “Arabic numerals” instead of “Indian numerals,” despite the fact that they ultimately come from India. In the Arab countries of the Maghrib (basically all of North Africa west of Egypt), these are the numerals that are used. In Egypt and points east, however, different (but related, you can see the similarities)  numerals are used, which in Arabic are called أرقام هِندية (arqām hindīyah), or “Indian numerals” (“numeral” is رُقْم ruqm, plural أرقام arqām). The table below shows names and numerals for the numbers from 0-10 (teens will have to wait for another time).

In addition to رُقْم, “number” can also be translated as عَدَد (ʿadad), plural أعداد (aʿdād).

English name

Western Arabic numeral

Eastern Arabic numeral

Arabic name

Arabic name transliterated

zero

0

۰

صِفْر

ṣifr

one

1

۱

واحِد

wāḥid

two

2

۲

إثْنان

ithnān

three

3

۳

ثَلاثة

thalāthah

four

4

٤ (variant: ۴)

أربَعة

arbaʿah

five

5

۵

خَمْسة

khamsah

six

6

٦ (variant: ۶)

سِتّة

sittah

seven

7

۷

سَبعة

sabʿah

eight

8

۸

ثَمانية

thamāniyah

nine

9

۹

تِسعة

tisʿah

ten

10

۱۰

عَشْرة

ʿashrah

Note that 4 and 6 have alternate forms; these are more commonly encountered in Persian but may be found in Arabic as well.

Unfortunately, counting things from 1-10 is a little tricky. Well, I should say counting things from 3-10 is tricky; for 1 of something you just used the singular noun, with the number 1 if you want to emphasize its singularity, and for two of something you use the special dual form of the noun. For example:

  • كتاب (kitāb) or واحد كتاب (wāḥid kitāb) = “one book”
  • كتابان (kitābān) = “two books”

However, from 3-10 you have to use the plural form of the noun, and you have to match the opposite gender of the noun for some reason (don’t ask me). So “four books” would be أربعة كُتُب (arbaʿah kutub) with the number in the feminine, but four magazines (singular مَجَلّة, majallah) would be أربع مجلّات (arbaʿ majallāt), with the number in the masculine.