In a sentence of mine, the ordinal number fifty third comes up. Now, I believe the word to be cincuenta tercero, but that's word for word translation. I wonder if something is to happen with fifty, i.e. that the Spanish language converts fifty to fiftieth (fiftieth third).

To make it clearer what I'm asking; whom is correct?

cincuenta tercero

quincuagésimo tercero

The latter example seems ridicolous, but then again, there are probably languages out there that deals with multiple digit ordinal numbers this way. Is Spanish one of them?


2 Answers 2


I want to hightlight the very useful link offered by @murderofcrows in the comments: ORDINALES

There you can find all that you need to know about ordinals in Spanish.

I wouldn't use the adjective ridiculous to address how we build ordinals. It just a way of expressing order. You may like it or not. It may be different from your native language but it's not ridiculous. I guess that Spanish has inherited it from Latin.

Let me quote an interesting excerp from the link

  1. En la lengua corriente existe una marcada tendencia a evitar el uso de los ordinales, en especial los que se refieren a números altos, y a sustituirlos por los cardinales correspondientes

Translated to English

  1. In current language exists a remarkable tendency about avoiding the use of ordinals, specially those that refer to high numbers, replacing them by the corresponding cardinals

So answering your question, quincuagésimo tercero is the right choice but you can also say just cincuenta y tres.

  • Indeed. Example: Mi hermana terminó 53 en la carrera. Another variant is número cincuenta y tres, for example: La entrada número 53 en la lista tiene un error. Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 3:44

The ordinal number for 53 is quincuagésimo tercero, as you've found. In Spanish each part of the cardinal number (for example, 53, cincuenta y tres) is turned into its corresponding ordinal, only without the y (if there was one); if the cardinal is a single word but two figures, you must imagine them separated (veintidósveinte y dos).

Some of the smaller ordinal numbers have irregular and/or alternative forms; for example, for 11 once you have both undécimo and the more modern regular form décimo primero (and J. L. Borges famously used yet another form, onceno). The parts of the ordinals that are made up of tens and units, up to 29, can be found as two words (vigésimo quinto) or one (vigesimoquinto); the tens+units above 29 are all written as two words (trigésimo primero, never *trigesimoprimero). This arbitrary rule, incidentally, follows the one about whether you can write a two-figure number as one (veinticinco) or two (treinta y uno).

As you already guessed, many of the less obvious forms are basically never used; any educated speaker will understand quincuagésimo as "fiftieth" but far fewer will get noningentésimo as "nine hundredth". The modern tendency is to make up ordinals in a regular way using a suffix, -avo (feminine -ava, plural -avos, -avas) that is/was usually reserved for fractions. That is, to say onceavo, doceavo, treceavo, ..., cincuentaitresavo, cincuentaicuatroavo, etc. Since ordinals and fractions are not prone to be mixed up, people find this OK.

There are additional complications with numbers higher than two or three figures, but for the most part these are rarely found in speech, and in writing they are usually left as figures plus the ordinal signs (masculine º, feminine ª). When someone needs to say one of these out loud it's not uncommon to use the bare cardinal number (for example, you'll hear journalists saying el doscientos cuarenta y dos aniversario de la Revolución Americana, instead of the proper el ducentésimo cuadragésimo segundo aniversario...).

  • I wouldn't say that people find the use of -avo for ordinals OK. Some people may do, but many others find it awful. Use of the cardinal instead of the ordinal for large numbers, on the other hand, is generally accepted.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 7:37
  • 1
    I probably should have said simply "acceptably not confusing" rather than "OK".
    – pablodf76
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 10:15

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