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

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

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.

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 (lesson coming soon):

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

4b, 5. Other fractions and all approximate numbers are used as expressions of quantity in the construction

article
   (or)
cardinal number
   (or)
adverb of quantity
+ fraction
   (or)
approximate number
+ de

Par exemple…

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

Numerical adjective agreement

1. Cardinal numbers are invariable with the exception of 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 it 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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