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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