Ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers, such as ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’, show the order, position or importance of things in a list or sequence.

Use words for ordinals up to ‘ninth’ and numerals for ‘10th’ and above

Spell out ordinal numbers from ‘first’ to ‘ninth’. Use numerals for ordinals from ‘10th’ onwards.

Ordinals written as numerals always have a suffix:

  • ‘-st’ (‘first’, ‘21st’)
  • ‘-nd’ (‘second’, ‘32nd’)
  • ‘-rd’ (‘third’, ‘103rd’)
  • ‘-th’ (‘fourth’, ‘15th’, ‘55th’ and so on).

Don’t write suffixes in superscript. Superscript may not be accessible to people who use screen readers.

Example

  • The first item on the agenda was to confirm the agenda. The second item was to review the minutes from the last meeting.
  • In 2013, Canberra celebrated its 100th anniversary.
  • We pause to remember at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
  • This is the department’s 22nd graduate intake.
  • We expect to receive our 1,000th visitor today.
  • They are the 273rd immigrant to join this group.

Exception to ordinals rule for centuries

Use numerals, not words, when writing ordinals with centuries. This is an exception to the general rule to spell out ‘first’ to ‘ninth’ for ordinals.

Write ‘century’ and ‘centuries’ in lower case.

Example

  • In the 1st century CE, Tiberius succeeded Augustus Caesar as Roman emperor.
  • Vikings established a Norse kingdom around Dublin in the 9th century.
  • The gallery bought a 15th-century painting.

Very large ordinals

People find very large rounded numbers easier to read in words rather than numerals. This also applies to ordinal numbers. Spell out the number and include the relevant suffix.

Write this

  • the millionth visitor

Not this

  • the 1,000,000th visitor

Ordinals in reference lists

In reference lists, use numerals with a suffix for editions of a publication. This is an exception to the rule to use words for ordinal numbers up to ninth.

Example

Brone AZ (2020) Towards a high-performing public service, 2nd edn, Positive Publications, Canberra.

Ordinals in organisation names

If an organisation’s name includes a numeral, write the name as the organisation does. This is an exception to the rule to use words for ordinal numbers up to ninth.

Example

The 1st Australian Infantry Battalion arrived in Egypt on 2 December 1914.

MyHealth 1st is a platform that connects patients with local health practitioners.

They searched for Thirteenth Holdings Pty Ltd on the ASIC registers.

Create a list rather than use ordinals

Don’t use ordinals to order points in general content. Reword the content so it doesn’t need ordinals or use a numbered list instead. A list can make it easier for people to follow the sequence.

Always use numbered lists rather than ordinals when you’re expressing a series of items or steps – for example, in recommendations or instructions.

Like this

To apply for the grant:

  1. complete the eligibility checklist
  2. submit a business case
  3. provide supporting documents.

Not this

If you want to apply for the grant, first complete the eligibility checklist. Second, you must submit a business case; and third, you must provide supporting documents.

Accessibility requirements

Code lists so they are understood correctly. Mark up ordered lists in HTML with the <ol> tag.

WCAG quick reference: 1.3.1 Info and relationships – level A

Ordinals in journals and other publications

Ordinals, such as ‘firstly’ and ‘secondly’, are sometimes used in content written for government publications such as journals and reports. In this type of content, they order thoughts without interrupting the flow of the text.

‘Firstly’ and ‘secondly’ work as a pair. Don’t use one without the other.

Write this

The committee responded in 2 ways. Firstly, they asked for an immediate adjournment of proceedings. Secondly, they sought clarification about their powers to subpoena witnesses.

Not this

The committee responded in 2 ways. They asked for an immediate adjournment of proceedings. Secondly, they sought clarification about their powers to subpoena witnesses.

Don’t use ‘thirdly’. Instead, omit ordinals and write the points as a run-on list in a sentence.

Write this

The committee took evidence from peak bodies, unions and the department.

Not this

The committee took evidence from, firstly, peak bodies; secondly, unions; and thirdly, the department.

Don't use ordinals in dates

Use numerals without a suffix for dates.

Write this

12 February 2020

Not this

12th February 2020

Don’t confuse ordinals with regnal numbers

Regnal numbers are upper case roman numerals that are used for the titles of monarchs and popes and in family names.

Even though you might pronounce regnals as ordinal numbers, don’t write them like that.

Correct

Elizabeth I

Incorrect

Elizabeth Ist

Use a non-breaking space for names with regnal numbers

Put a non-breaking space between the name and the regnal number. A non-breaking space means that line breaks won’t split up both elements of the name. The name and number will stay together on one line.

You can insert a non-breaking space using the Unicode character U+00A0.

In HTML, use the entity &nbsp; to insert a non-breaking space. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar in Word.

Print considerations

Use a non-breaking thin space between the name and the regnal number.

The non-breaking thin space ensures that the:

  • name and number stay together on one line
  • spacing between name and number doesn’t change when text is justified.

You can insert a non-breaking thin space using the Unicode character U+202F.

Release notes

The digital edition revises guidance on ordinal numbers.

There is now an exception to the rule ‘Use words for ordinals up to ‘ninth’ and numerals for ‘10th’ and above’ for centuries. Usage evidence has informed this change. It shows the overwhelming use of numerals, not words, when writing ordinals under 10 with centuries.

It deviates from advice in the sixth edition by recommending that words be used for numbers up to the ninth. The sixth edition recommended words up to 100 and for large rounded numbers.

The digital edition excludes information in the sixth edition about using ordinal dates in data systems.

The Content Guide made only a brief mention of ordinal numbers.

About this page

Evidence

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2022) ‘Numbers, measurements’, The ABC style guide, ABC website, accessed 31 January 2022.

GOV.UK (2022) ‘A to Z: numbers’, Style guide, GOV.UK, accessed 31 January 2022.

New Zealand Government (2020) ‘Numbers’, Content design guidance, Digital.govt.nz, accessed 31 January 2022.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘4.6: numbers’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 31 January 2022.

U.S. Government Publishing Office (2016) ‘12.10: ordinal numbers’, U.S. Government Publishing Office style manual, U.S. Government Publishing Office, accessed 31 January 2022.

References

American Psychological Association (2020) Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edn, American Psychological Association, Washington DC.

Oxford University Press (2016) New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

The Unicode Consortium (2022) ‘ASCII digits’, Unicode 14.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 31 January 2022.

The Unicode Consortium (2022) ‘Number forms’, Unicode 14.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 31 January 2022.

University of Chicago (2017) Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

This page was updated Wednesday 20 March 2024.

Help us improve the Style Manual

Did you find this page useful?
Do you have any other feedback?
Is your feedback about:
Select the answer that best describes your feedback:
Do you work for government?
Are you interested in taking part in Style Manual user research?
Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
Do you work for government?