Ordinal indicator

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Ordinal indicator
Ordinal indicator
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General typography
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dagger † ‡
degree °
ditto mark
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
number sign, pound, hash, octothorpe #
numero sign
obelus ÷
multiplication sign ×
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil  % ‰
plus and minus + −
equals sign =
basis point
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underscore, understrike _
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Uncommon typography
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In other scripts

In written languages, an ordinal indicator is a character, or group of characters, following a numeral denoting that it is an ordinal number, rather than a cardinal number.

In English orthography, this corresponds to the suffixes -st, -nd, -rd, -th in written ordinals (represented either on the line 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or as superscript, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th).

Also commonly encountered are the superscript (and often underlined) ordinal indicators º and ª, originally from Romance, but via the cultural influence of Italian by the 18th century widely used in the wider cultural sphere of Western Europe, as in 1.º primo and 1.ª prima "first, chief; prime quality".

The practice of underlined (or doubly underlined) superscripted abbreviations was common in 19th-century writing (not limited to ordinal indicators in particular, and also extant in the Numero sign №), and was also found in handwritten English until at least the late 19th century (e.g. "first" abbreviated 1st or 1st).[1]

º and ª[edit]

Both º and ª redirect here. º is not to be confused with the superscript lower-case o (o), the degree symbol (°), or the ring diacritic (˚); ª is not to be confused with the superscript lower-case a (a).


In Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Galician, the ordinal indicators º and ª are appended to the numeral depending on whether the grammatical gender is masculine or feminine respectively. These suffixes are often underlined as well, though in regard to digital typography, this will depend on the font used. Cambria and Calibri, for example, have underlined ordinal indicators.

The masculine ordinal indicator U+00BA (º) is often confused with the degree sign U+00B0 (°), which looks very similar in many fonts and is available on the Italian keyboard layout. The degree sign is a uniform circle and is never underlined, while the letter o may be oval or elliptical and have a varying line thickness. The letter o may also be underlined.

Examples of the usage of ordinal indicators in Italian are:

  • 1.º primo ("first")
  • 2.º secondo ("second")
  • 3.º terzo ("third")

Galician also forms its ordinal numbers this way.[2]

In Spanish, using the two final letters of the word as it is spelled is not allowed,[3] except in the cases of primer (an apocope of primero) before singular masculine nouns, which is not abbreviated as 1.º but as 1.er, of tercer (an apocope of tercero) before singular masculine nouns, which is not abbreviated as 3.º but as 3.er, and of compound ordinal numbers ending in "primer" or "tercer". For instance, "twenty-first" is vigésimo primer before a masculine noun, and its abbreviation is 21.er. Since none of these words are shortened before feminine nouns, their correct forms for those cases are primera and tercera. These can be represented as 1.ª and 3.ª. As with other abbreviations in Spanish, the ordinal numbers have a period ".", which is placed before the indicator. Portuguese follows the same method.[4]


The practice of indicating ordinals with superscript suffixes may originate with the practice of writing a superscript o to indicate a Latin ablative in pre-modern scribal practice. This ablative desinence happened to be frequently combined with ordinal numerals indicating dates (as in tertio die (written iiio die) "on the third day" or in Anno Domini years, as in anno millensimo [...] ab incarnatione domini nostri Iesu Christi (written an ͂ Mo [...] dm ͂i nri ih ͂u xp ͂i or similarly) "in the thousandth [...] year after the incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ").

The usage of terminals in the vernacular languages of Europe derives from Latin usage, as practiced by scribes in monasteries and chancelries before writing in the vernacular became established. The terminal letters used depend on the gender of the item to be ordered and the case in which the ordinal adjective is stated, for example primus dies ("the first day", nominative case, masculine), but primo die ("on the first day", ablative case masculine), shown as Io or io. As monumental inscriptions often refer to days on which events happened, e.g. "he died on the tenth of June", the ablative case is generally used: Xo (decimo) with the month stated in the genitive case. Examples:[5]

  • Io ((primo) die Julii, "on the first day of July")
  • Xo decimo
  • XXo vicensimo
  • Lo quinquagensimo
  • Co centensimo
  • Mo millensimo
Comparison between the ordinal indicator (left) and the degree sign (right), in a monotone font and in a variable stroke width font.


In correct typography, the ordinal indicators ª and º should be distinguishable from other characters.[6]

A frequent mistake is to confuse the degree sign U+00B0 (°) with the masculine ordinal indicator. The degree sign is a uniform circumference and is never underlined, while the letter masculine ordinal indicator has the shape of a lower case letter “o”. That means that, depending on the font, it may be circular, oval or elliptical and may have a varying line thickness. While in Brazil it is mandatorily[7] underlined, in Portugal it is not mandatory[8] but it is “advisable” to avoid confusions[6] with the degree sign.

Alignment of the ordinal indicator (left) and superscript characters (right), in the Portuguese abbreviation “1.º E.ᵈᵒ” (1st floor left), in a monotone font and in a variable stroke width font.

Also, the ordinal indicators should be distinguishable from superscripts characters. The top of the ordinal indicators (i.e., the top of the elevated letter “a” and letter “o”) must be aligned[6] with the X-height of the font. The alignment of the top of superscripted letters “a” and “o” will depend on the positioning of the superscript characters of the font.

Comparison between artificially rendered superscript (left) and true superscripts (U+1D48 and U+1D52) (right), in the Portuguese abbreviation “1.º E.ᵈᵒ” (1st floor left), in a monotone font and in a variable stroke width font.

The line thickness of the ordinal indicators is always proportional to the line thickness of the other characters of the font. In artificially rendered superscripts (for instance, with the command “superscript” from text editors) the line thickness of those superscripted characters is thinner.


The Romance feminine and masculine ordinal indicators were adopted into the 8-bit ECMA-94 encoding in 1985 and the ISO 8859-1 encoding in 1987 (both based on DEC's Multinational Character Set designed for VT220), at positions 170 (xAA) and 186 (xBA), respectively. ISO 8859-1 was incorporated as the first 256 code points of ISO/IEC 10646 and Unicode in 1991. The Unicode characters are thus:


The named html entities ª and º were introduced in HTML 3.2 (1996).

These encodings should not be confused with the encodings of true superscripts in Unicode, which are, in this case:


The majority of character sets intended to support Galician, Portuguese and/or Spanish have those two characters encoded. In detail (in hexadecimal):

Character DEC Multinational
CP 819
CP 923
Commodore Amiga
CP 1004
Windows CP 1252
IBM CP 437
IBM CP 860
CP 220
Atari ST
IBM CP 850
IBM CP 859
IBM CP 898
IBM CP 037
IBM CP 256
IBM CP 275
IBM CP 282
IBM CP 283
IBM CP 284
IBM CP 500
IBM CP 831
IBM CP 924
IBM CP 1047
IBM CP 1073
IBM CP 1078
IBM CP 1079
Adobe Standard
NextStep Multinational
HP Roman-8
Ventura International
MacIntosh Roman Wang ABICOMP
ª AA A6 9A E3 F9 BB DC DC


Portuguese and Spanish keyboard layouts are the only ones on which the characters are directly accessible through a dedicated key: º for “º” and Shift,º for “ª”. On other keyboard layouts these characters are accessible only through a set of keystrokes.

In Windows keyboards, “º” can be obtained by pressing Alt, 0, 1, 8, 6 (on the numeric keypad) and “ª” can be obtained by pressing Alt, 0, 1, 7, 0 (on the numeric keypad). In English (International) layout, “º” can be produced through AltGr+⇧ Shift+X+O, and “ª” can be produced through AltGr+⇧ Shift+X+A.

In Apple keyboards, “º” can be obtained by pressing Alt, 0 and “ª” can be obtained by pressing Alt, 9 in an English-language layout.

In Linux, “º” can be obtained by pressing AltGr, Shift, M and “ª” can be obtained by pressing AltGr, Shift, F.

Similar conventions[edit]

Some languages use superior letters as a typographic convention for abbreviations. Oftentimes, the ordinal indicators "º" and "ª" are used in this sense, and not to indicate ordinal numbers. Some might say that this is a misuse of ordinal indicators:

  • Spanish uses superscript letters and ordinal indicators in some abbreviations, such as V.º B.º for visto bueno ("approved"); n.º for número ("number"); D.ª for doña (an honorific); M.ª for María, a Spanish name frequently used in compounds like José M.ª; and adm.ora for administradora, administrator. The superscript characters and indicators are always preceded by a period. Traditionally they have been underlined, but this is optional and less frequent today. Portuguese forms some abbreviations in the same manner. For example: Ex.mo for Excelentíssimo (an honorific), L.da for Limitada (Ltd.), and Sr.ª for Senhora (Ms.).
  • English has borrowed the "No." abbreviation from the Romance-language word numero (according to the OED[1], the term is from the Latin numero, which is the ablative case of the word numerus ("number"). This is sometimes written as "No", with the superscript o optionally underlined, or sometimes with the ordinal indicator. In this case the ordinal indicator would simply represent the letter "o" in numero; see numero sign.

Other suffixes[edit]


Further information: English ordinal numbers
  • -st is used with numbers ending in 1 (e.g. 1st, pronounced first)
  • -nd is used with numbers ending in 2 (e.g. 92nd, pronounced ninety-second)
  • -rd is used with numbers ending in 3 (e.g. 33rd, pronounced thirty-third)
  • As an exception to the above rules, all the "teen" numbers ending with 11, 12 or 13 use -th (e.g. 11th, pronounced eleventh, 112th, pronounced one hundred [and] twelfth)
  • -th is used for all other numbers (e.g. 9th, pronounced ninth).

In 19th-century handwriting, these terminals were often elevated, that is to say written as superscripts (e.g. 2ⁿᵈ, 34ᵗʰ). With the gradual introduction of the typewriter in the late 19th century, it became common to write them on the line in typewritten texts,[9] and this usage even became recommended in certain 20th-century style guides. Thus, the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style states: "The letters in ordinal numbers should not appear as superscripts (e.g., 122nd not 122ⁿᵈ)", as do the Bluebook[10] and style guides by the Council of Science Editors,[11] Microsoft,[12] and Yahoo.[13] Two problems are that superscripts are used "most often in citations" and are "tiny and hard to read".[10] Some word processors format ordinal indicators as superscripts by default (e.g. Microsoft Word[14]). Style guide author Jack Lynch (Rutgers) recommends turning off automatic superscripting of ordinals in Microsoft Word, because "no professionally printed books use superscripts".[15]


French uses the ordinal indicators er (1er – premier), re in feminine (1re – première), e or ème (2e – deuxième or 2ème – deuxième). French also uses the indicator d for the variant 2d – second ; in feminine this indicator becomes de : 2de – seconde. In plural, all these indicators take a S : ers (1ers – premiers), res (1res – premières), es (2es – deuxièmes), ds (2ds – seconds), des (2des – secondes). These indicators use superscript formatting whenever it is available.

Other languages[edit]


The rule in Catalan is to follow the number with the last letter in the singular and the last two letters in the plural.[16] Most numbers follow the pattern exemplified by vint "20" (20è m sg, 20a f sg, 20ns m pl, 20es f pl), but the first few ordinals are irregular, affecting the abbreviations of the masculine forms. Superscripting is not standard.


Unlike other Germanic languages, Dutch is similar to English in this respect: the French layout with e used to be popular, but the recent spelling changes now prescribe the suffix ‑e. Optionally ‑ste and ‑de may be used, but this is more complex: 1ste (eerste), 2de (tweede), 4de (vierde), 20ste (twintigste)…[17]


In Finnish orthography, when the numeral is followed by its head noun (which indicates the grammatical case of the ordinal), it is sufficient to write a period or full stop after the numeral: Päädyin kilpailussa 2. sijalle "In the competition, I finished in 2nd place". However, if the head noun is omitted, the ordinal indicator takes the form of a morphological suffix, which is attached to the numeral with a colon. In the nominative case, the suffix is ‑nen for 1 and 2, and ‑s for larger numerals: Minä olin 2:nen, ja veljeni oli 3:s "I came 2nd, and my brother came 3rd". This is derived from the endings of the spelled-out ordinal numbers: ensimmäinen, toinen, kolmas, neljäs, viides, kuudes, seitsemäs

The system becomes rather complicated when the ordinal needs to be inflected, as the ordinal suffix is adjusted according to the case ending: 3:s (nominative case, which has no ending), 3:nnen (genitive case with ending ‑n), 3:tta (partitive case with ending ‑ta), 3:nnessa (inessive case with ending ‑ssa), 3:nteen (illative case with ending ‑en), etc. Even native speakers sometimes find it difficult to exactly identify the ordinal suffix, as its borders with the word stem and the case ending may appear blurred. In such cases it may be preferable to write the ordinal word entirely with letters and particularly 2:nen is rare even in the nominative case, as it is not significantly shorter than the full word toinen.


Numerals from 3 up form their ordinals uniformly by adding the suffix : 3ú, 4ú, 5ú, etc. When the ordinal is written out, the suffix adheres to the spelling restrictions imposed by the broad/slender difference in consonants and is written -iú after slender consonants; but when written as numbers, only the suffix itself () is written. In the case of 4 (ceathair), the final syllable is syncopated before the suffix, and in the case of 9 (naoi), 20 (fiche), and 1000 (míle), the final vowel is assimilated into the suffix.

Most multiples of ten end in a vowel in their cardinal form and form their ordinal form by adding the suffix to their genitive singular form, which ends in -d; this is not reflected in writing. Exceptions are 20 (fiche) and 40 (daichead), both of whom form their ordinals by adding the suffix directly to the cardinal (fichiú and daicheadú).

When counting objects (2) becomes dhá and ceathair (4) becomes ceithre.

As in French, the vigesimal system is widely used, particularly in people's ages. Ceithre scór agus cúigdéag – 95.

The numbers 1 (aon) and 2 () both have two separate ordinals: one regularly formed by adding -ú (aonú, dóú), and one suppletive form (céad, dara). The regular forms are restricted in their usage to actual numeric contexts, when counting. The latter are also used in counting, especially céad, but are used in broader, more abstract senses of 'first' and 'second' (or 'other'). In their broader senses, céad and dara are not written as and , though and may in a numeric context be read aloud as céad and dara (e.g., an 21ú lá may be read as an t-aonú lá is fiche or as an chéad lá is fiche).

Cardinal Ordinal
1 a aon aonú (1ú) or céad
2 a dó dóú (2ú) or dara
3 a trí tríú (3ú)
4 a ceathair ceathrú (4ú)
5 a cúig cúigiú (5ú)
6 a sé séú (6ú)
7 a seacht seachtú (7ú)
8 a hocht ochtú (8ú)
9 a naoi naoú (9ú)
10 a deich deichiú (10ú)
20 fiche or scór fichiú (20ú)
30 triocha triochadú (30ú)
40 daichead, ceathracha or dhá scór daicheadú or ceathrachadú (40ú)
50 caoga caogadú (50ú)
60 seasca or trí scór seascadú (60ú)
70 seachtó seachtódú (70ú)
80 ochtó or ceithre scór ochtódú (80ú)
90 nócha nóchadú (90ú)
100 céad céadú (100ú)
1000 míle míliú (1000ú)
Further information: Russian numerals

One or two letters of the spelled-out numeral are appended to it (either after a hyphen or, rarely, in superscript). The rule is to take the minimal number of letters that include at least one consonant phoneme. Examples: 2-му второму /ftɐromu/, 2-я вторая /ftɐraja/, 2-й второй /ftɐroj/ (note that in the second example the vowel letter я represents two phonemes, one of which (/j/) is consonant).

Further information: Swedish numerals

The general rule is that :a (for 1 and 2) or :e (for all other numbers, except 101:a, 42:a, et cetera, but including 11:e and 12:e) is appended to the numeral. The reason is that -a and -e respectively end the ordinal number words. The ordinals for 1 and 2 may however be given an -e form (förste and andre instead of första and andra) when used about a male person (masculine natural gender), and if so they are written 1:e and 2:e. When indicating dates, suffixes are never used. Examples: 1:a klass (first grade (in elementary school)), 3:e utgåvan (third edition), but 6 november. Furthermore, suffixes can be left out if the number obviously is an ordinal number, example: 3 utg. (3rd ed). Using a full stop as an ordinal indicator is considered archaic, but still occurs in military contexts. Example: 5. komp (5th company).

Representation as period[edit]

In Basque, Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Faroese, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Norwegian, Polish, Slovak, Slovene, Turkish, among other languages, a period or full stop is written after the numeral.

The same usage, apparently borrowed from German,[18] is now a standard in Polish, where it replaced the superscript of the last phoneme (following complex declension and gender patterns, e.g. 1szy, 7ma, 24te, 100ny).

Representation as prefix[edit]

Numbers in Malay and Indonesian are preceded by the ordinal prefix ke-; for example, ke-7, "seventh". The exception is pertama which means "first".

Numbers in Filipino are preceded by the ordinal prefix ika- or pang- (the latter subject to sandhi; for example, ika-7 or pam-7, "seventh". The exception is una, which means "first".

In Chinese, an ordinal number is prefixed by ; for example, 第一 "first", 第二 "second".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ see Max Harold Fisch, Christian J. W. Kloesel, "Essay on the Editorial Method", in Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1879-1884, vol. 4 (1989), p. 629: "Peirce also regularly used the nineteenth-century calligraphic convention of double underlining superscript portions of abbreviations such as Mr or 1st."
  2. ^ "Números ordinais e partativos". Wikidog.xunta.es. 
  3. ^ Ordinales, Royal Spanish Academy .
  4. ^ Sobrescritos sublinhados em ordinais, Ciberdúvidas da Língua Portuguesa .
  5. ^ Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer, 1992, London, pp.28-9
  6. ^ a b c Microsoft typography — Character design standards
  7. ^ Underlined masculine/feminine ordinal indicators|Adobe Community
  8. ^ Sobrescritos sublinhados em ordinais
  9. ^ e.g. Max Harold Fisch, Christian J. W. Kloesel, "Essay on the Editorial Method", in Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1879-1884, vol. 4 (1989), p. 629: "In all MSS in this period, Peirce inscribed "st," "nd," "rd," and "th" in the superscript position: for convenience's sake, they are on the line in typewritten pieces. In published pieces the ordinals are superscripted to conform to Peirce's style; "2ⁿᵈ" and "3ʳᵈ" are emended to "2nd" and "3rd". When Peirce typed abbreviated ordinals on the line, these mechanical exceptions attributable to his typewriter have been changed to superscript ordinals."
  10. ^ a b Butterick, Matthew (October 4, 2012). "Typography for Lawyers - Ordinals". Retrieved 2012-10-04. Bluebook rule 6.2(b)(i) (19th ed. 2010) 
  11. ^ McMillan, Victoria E. (2011). Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences. Bedford / St. Martin's. p. 79. ISBN 9780312649715. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  12. ^ Microsoft® Manual of Style (4th ed.). Microsoft Press. 2012. p. 316. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  13. ^ Barr, Chris; Yahoo! (2010). The Yahoo! Style Guide. Macmillan. p. 359. ISBN 9780312569846. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  14. ^ "Automatic formatting results", Word Help, Office, Microsoft .
  15. ^ Lynch, Jack (April 30, 2007). The English Language: A User's Guide. Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Company. pp. 131, 213. ISBN 9781585101856. 
    Lynch, Jack (January 28, 2011). "Guide to Grammar and Style — M". Rutgers University. Retrieved 2012-10-04. [...] ordinal numbers [...] no professionally printed books use superscripts [...] 
  16. ^ "5. La grafia de les abreviacions", Gramàtica de la llengua catalana (PDF), IEC, p. 391 .
  17. ^ http://taaladvies.net/taal/advies/vraag/2/1_2_3_1e_2e_3e_1ste_2de_3de_1e_2e_3e/
  18. ^ Donald F. Reindl, 2009. "Kranjska je naša spraha: Historical German-Slovenian Language Contact". In: Christel Stolz (ed.), Unsere sprachlichen Nachbarn in Europa • Die Kontaktbeziehungen zwischen Deutsch und seinen Grenznachbarn, pp. 103–114. Bochum, Universitätsverlag, Dr. N. Brockmeyer, p. 110.

External links[edit]