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.

  Name Purpose Function Par exemple…
1   Cardinal numbers Counting adj, noun un, deux, trois
2   Ordinal numbers Ranking adj, noun premier, deuxième, troisième
3   Multiplicative numbers Multiplying adj, noun simple, double, triple
4 a) Fraction Dividing adj, noun demi
  b) Fractions Dividing noun un tiers, un quart
5   Approximate numbers Estimating noun une 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
+ fraction
approximate number
+ de

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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