Ordinal numbers such as first, second and third show the order and importance of things.
Sort and compare the order of things using ordinals
Ordinal numbers show the order or position of something in a sequence.
Ordinals always have a suffix:
- ‘-st’ (‘first’, ‘21st’)
- ‘-nd’ (‘second’, ‘32nd’)
- ‘-rd’ (‘third’, ‘103rd’)
- ‘-th’ (‘fourth’, ‘15th’, ‘55th’ and so on).
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.
Ordinal numbers to ‘ninth’
Write ordinal numbers up to ‘ninth’ in words.
- the third example
- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
- the 1st instance
- the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
Ordinals for ‘10th’ and higher
For ordinals of 10th or higher, use numerals with the relevant suffixes. Don’t write suffixes in superscript because it isn’t accessible to some people who use screen readers.
- the 25th graduate intake
- the 1,000th visitor
- the 273rd immigrant
- a 15th century painting
People find very large numbers easier to read in words rather than numerals. This also applies to ordinal numbers. Spell out the number and include the suffix.
- the millionth visitor
- 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.
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.
The 1st Australian Infantry Battalion arrived in Egypt on 2 December 1914.
MyHealth 1st is a platform that connects patients with local health practitioners.
List items without using ordinals
In most government writing, don’t use ordinals to order points in general text. Reword the content or use a numbered list instead. A list is easier for people to follow.
Always use numbered lists rather than ordinals when you’re expressing a series of items or steps – for example, in recommendations or instructions.
To apply for the grant:
- complete the eligibility checklist
- submit a business case
- provide supporting documents.
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.
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, such as ‘firstly’ and ‘secondly’, are sometimes used in content written for government publications such as journals. In this type of content, they order thoughts without interrupting the flow of the text. Use them sparingly. If you want to use ‘thirdly’, rewrite instead.
‘Firstly’ and ‘secondly’ work as a pair. Don’t use one without the other.
The committee responded in two ways. Firstly, they asked for an immediate adjournment of proceedings. Secondly, they sought clarification about their powers to subpoena witnesses.
Exclude ordinals in dates, use plain numerals
Use numerals without a suffix for dates.
12 February 2020
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.
Even though you might pronounce regnals as ordinal numbers, don’t write them like that.
The digital edition revises guidance on ordinal number.
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 round 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
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2020) ‘Numbers, measurements’, The ABC style guide, ABC website, accessed 3 June 2020.
GOV.UK (2016) ‘A-to-Z: numbers’, Style guide, GOV.UK, accessed 3 June 2020.
New Zealand Government (2020) ‘Numbers>’, Content design guidance, Digital.govt.nz, accessed 3 June 2020.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘4.6: numbers’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 3 June 2020.
U.S. Government Publishing Office (2016) ‘12.10: ordinal numbers’, U.S. Government Publishing Office style manual, U.S. Government Publishing Office, accessed 3 June 2020.
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 (2020) ‘ASCII digits’, Unicode 13.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 4 June 2020.
The Unicode Consortium (2020) ‘Number forms’, Unicode 13.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 4 June 2020.
University of Chicago (2017) Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
This page was updated Monday 6 September 2021.