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A Guide to German Numbers: Learn to Count and Much More

Learning to count might not seem appealing once you have passed primary school, but numbers are omnipresent in daily life.

Whether you want to negotiate a price, arrange a meeting, find out an address or phone number, or even just reserve a table for four, without some basic knowledge of numbers, even simple transactions can be difficult. But learning German numbers is easy! And it will help you to navigate everyday situations and instantly boost your understanding and confidence. 

In this article we will mainly look at cardinal and ordinal numbers, when to use which, and different useful applications for both.

Let's start with cardinal ones, as these are the basis for everything else.

German Cardinal Numbers (Kardinalzahlen)

The term cardinal numbers or cardinals refers to the basic numbers, e.g. one, two, three… 

Numbers can be used as nouns, and as such they capitalized and always feminine: 

Er zählte bis Drei.Die Acht ist meine Glückszahl.
He counts to three.(The) eight is my lucky number.

They can also be used as adjectives:

Die fünf Freunde sitzen im Cafe.Es kostet fünf Euro.
The five friends sit in a cafe.It costs five Euro.

If you use cardinal numbers as adjectives, they are, in contrast to other adjectives, not subject to declension and always stay the same.

Eins (1) cannot be used as an adjective before a noun. Instead you use the indefinite article (ein/eine) to refer to a single person or thing:
Er hat nur einen Freund.Wir brauchen nur eine Zwiebel.
He has only one friend.We only need one onion.

Try to learn the following list by heart, because it will be the foundation for everything related to numbers:

German Cardinal Numbers from 1 to 99

0

null

1

eins

2

zwei

3

drei

4

vier

5

fünf

6

sechs

7

sieben

8

acht

9

neun

10

zehn

11

elf

12

zwölf

13

dreizehn

14

vierzehn

15

fünfzehn

16

Sechzehn (without -s)

17

Siebzehn (without -en)

18

achtzehn

19

neunzehn

20

zwanzig

21

einundzwanzig

22

zweiundzwanzig

23

dreiundzwanzig

24

vierundzwanzig

25

fünfundzwanzig

26

sechsundzwanzig

27

siebenundzwanzig

28

achtundzwanzig

29

neunundzwanzig

10

zehn

20

zwanzig

30

dreißig

40

vierzig

50

fünfzig

60

sechzig (without -s)

70

siebzig (without -en)

80

achtzig

90

neunzig

Besides some deviations in spelling of a few numbers (highlighted in bold), it is all pretty straight forward. Just remember that two-digit numbers are always spelled the other way around.

19neunzehn
35fünfunddreißig
78achtundsiebzig

You are now already able to count to 99! And from here on you can easily make it to a million.

Cardinals from 100 to 100 000 000

Try to remember the following three numbers:

100 (ein)hundert

1000 (ein)tausend

1 000 000 (eine) Million

Now you only have to combine any of the one- and two-digit numbers with hundert, tausend or Million. Please note, that eine Million and above is generally not written as a numeral, but as a word.

200zweihundert
300dreihundert
400vierhundert
900neunhundert
2000zweitausend
4000viertausend
10 000zehntausend
20 000zwanzigtausend
100 000(ein)hunderttausend
200 000zweihunderttausend
3 000 000drei Million

Combinations

These might seem more complicated, but only because they can be very long words. They all follow the same rules. Here are some examples:

420vierhundertzwanzig
597fünfhundertsiebenundneunzig
1005(ein)tausend(und)fünf
2344zweitausenddreihundertvierundvierzig
17 420siebzehntausendvierhundertzwanzig
340 812dreihundertvierzigtausendachthundertzwölf
1 600 000Eine Million sechshunderttausend

German Ordinal Numbers (Ordnungszahlen)

The ordinal numbers are used to express a sequence or order. Written as numerals, they are always followed by a full stop:

der 1. (erste) Platz

the first place

die 2. (zweite) Etage

the second floor

das 3. (dritte) Mal

the third time

Ordinal numbers 1. to 19.

Formed by using the cardinal number plus -t (but 1. and 3. are irregular):

1.

erst-  (der erste, die ersten, erstens…)

2.

zweit-

3.

dritt-

4.

viert-

5.

fünft-

6.

sechst-

7.

sieb(en)t-

8.

acht- (nur ein -t)

9.

neunt-

10.

zehnt-

11.

elft-

12.

zwölft-

13.

dreizehnt-

14.

vierzehnt- …

Ordinal numbers from 20 upwards

Formed by using cardinal number plus -st:

20.

zwanzigst-

21.

einundzwanzigst-

22.

zweiundzwanzigst-

23.

dreiundzwanzigst-

24.

vierundzwanzigst-

25.

fünfundzwanzigst-

26.

sechsundzwanzigst-

27.

siebenundzwanzigst-

28.

achtundzwanzigst-

29.

neunundzwanzigst-

30.

dreißigst-

31.

einunddreißigst-

32.

zweiunddreißigst-

33.

dreiunddreißigst-

34.

vierunddreißigst-

35.

fünfunddreißigst-

36.

sechsunddreißigst-

37.​​​​

siebenunddreißigst-

38.

achtunddreißigst-

39.

neununddreißigst-

As adjectives, in contrast to cardinal numbers, they follow the same rules of declension as other adjectives. They can be used with or without an article in front of a noun.

without an articleDieses Angebot war erste Kasse.
This offer was first class.
with the definite articleEr ging das erste Mal allein zur Schule.
He went for the first time alone to school.
with the indefinite articleEs gibt immer eine zweite Chance.
There is always a second chance.
in lists (ordinal number plus -enserstens, zweitens, drittens
First, second, third


Erstens habe ich keine Lust, zweitens keine Zeit.
In the first place, I don't feel like it, secondly I don't have time

Ordinal numbers can also be used as nouns:

Er will immer Erster sein.He always wants to be first.
Henry, der Achte, war König von England seit 1509.Henry, the eighth, was king of England.

They can also be used in conjunction with the word zu:

Es geht einfacher zu zweit.It is easier with two.
Wir waren zu viert im Urlaub.We were four (people) on holiday.

Using Dates in German

German dates are always in this order: Day/Month/Year 

For the years just the cardinals are needed, same as in English:

1412vierzehnhundertzwölf
1984neunzehnhundertvierundachtzig
2020zweitausendzwanzig

In German there is no preposition before the year, unless the date is actually preceded by the word year.

Er ist 1992 geboren. He is born in 1992.
Wir sind 2005 nach Australien gereist.We travelled to Australia in 2005.
In dem Jahr(e) 1989 ist meine Schwester geboren.In the year 1989 my sister was born.

For specific dates we need the ordinals:

12.05.1972  zwölfter Fünfter neunzehnhundertzweiundsiebzig 

Der Erste (1.) Mai ist der Tag der Arbeit. The first of May is Workers ́ day.

Ich möchte vom ersten Dritten (1.3.) bis zum zehnten Vierten (10.4) reservieren. I would like to reserve from 1.3. to 10.04.  

And finally I would like to introduce you to a few common expressions which also use numbers.

Miscellaneous Number Words in German

Using a cardinal number with the ending -fach, tells you how many of each there are:

Das war zweifacher Betrug.This was a double scam.
Ich brauche das in dreifacher Ausführung.I need three copies of it.

Using a cardinal number with the ending -er plus -lei tells you how many different kinds there are:

Das ist alles einerlei für mich.This is all one and the same to me.
Sie kauft zweierlei Marmelade.She buys two different kinds of jam.
Es beinhaltet dreierlei Zutaten.It contains three kinds of ingredients.

Using a Cardinal number with the ending -mal tells you how often something is repeated:

Ich habe zweimal angerufen.I called two times.
Er geht fünfmal die Woche zum Sport.He is doing sports five times a week.

Conclusion

The cardinal numbers are the basic numbers. As a noun they always feminine, and as an adjective they do not require declension. 

The ordinal numbers are the numerals followed by a full stop and refer to an order or sequence. These do have to follow the rules of declension as other nouns and adjectives.

Begin by learning the cardinals from 1 to 20, then to 99, and you have already mastered the most important part. From here on, you can easily learn to count to 100, a million, learn ordinals and everything else. And the rewards are instant! You will suddenly notice numbers everywhere and understand so much more.

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About the Author Silke

Silke writes for work and pleasure. When she is not at her desk, she likes to grow food and other interesting plants on her farm in Portugal.

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