Numerical Adjectives and Nouns

Adjectifs et noms numériques

French and English have five different types of numbers used for different purposes and with varying functions: they act like adjectives and / or nouns.

 NamePurposeFunctionPar exemple…
1 Cardinal numbersCountingadj, nounun, deux, trois
2 Ordinal numbersRankingadj, nounpremier, deuxième, troisième
3 Multiplicative numbersMultiplyingadj, nounsimple, double, triple
4a)FractionDividingadj, noundemi
 b)FractionsDividingnounun tiers, un quart
5 Approximate numbersEstimatingnounune dizaine, une douzaine, une trentaine
French numbers
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Numerical word order

There are strict rules about the placement of the different types of numbers.

1. Cardinal numbers as adjectives must come first, before the noun they modify as well as any other adjectives.

Par exemple…

une jolie peinture one pretty painting
les cinq premiers étudiants the first five students

 Note the difference between French and English word order when cardinals and ordinals are used together, as in the second example.

2, 3. Ordinals and multiplicatives as adjectives typically precede the noun they modify.

Par exemple…

C’est notre quatrième année ici. It’s our fourth year here.
un double whisky a double whiskey

4a. The fraction demi often acts as an adjective and creates a compound noun with the noun it modifies:

Par exemple…

un demi-tour half a turn
un demi-succèss partial success

4b, 5. All other fractions and all approximate numbers are used as expressions of quantity in this construction:

cardinal number
adverb of quantity
approximate number

Par exemple…

un quart d’heure a quarter hour
plusieurs dizaines de livres several dozen books

Numerical adjective agreement

Unlike most French adjectives, numerical adjectives are often invariable.

1. Cardinal numbers are invariable – except un:

un café, j’en ai bu un one coffee, I drank one
une pomme, j’en ai mangé une one apple, I ate one

2. Ordinal numbers are also invariable with the exception of premier.

le premier bâtiment the first building
les trois premières salles the first three rooms

3. Multiplicatives all agree with their nouns.

deux triples doses two triple doses
trois doubles pages three double pages

4a. When demi creates a compound noun, it’s an invariable adjective:

une demi-bouteille a half bottle
trois demi-journées three half-days

However, when demi follows the noun, it’s a noun and must agree:

une bouteille et demie a bottle and a half
trois journées et demie three and a half days

 Related lessons

Using numbers

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French numbers

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