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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The committee responded in two 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.
The committee took evidence from peak bodies, unions and the department.
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.
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 and in family names.
Even though you might pronounce regnals as ordinal numbers, don’t write them like that.
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 to insert a non-breaking space.
Use a non-breaking thin space between the name and the regnal number.
The non-breaking thin space ensures that the:
- 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.
The digital edition revises guidance on ordinal numbers.
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
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.
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 23 February 2022.