Numbers are an essential part of daily language, whether you're learning German or any other language. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the date, time, or counting physical objects, numbers are a critical aspect of communication.
German may have a reputation for having challenging grammar. But the numbers are one of the most straightforward aspects of the language to learn.
Once you learn zero through twelve, the rest will be a sinch.
This article will teach you how to strengthen your vocabulary by learning cardinal and ordinal numbers.
I'll even break down the most challenging part of learning German figures, which involves choosing the appropriate case ending.
But don't worry, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve to help you remember which ending to use.
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German Numbers: How To Count
First, let's take a look at the cardinal numbers such as eins (one), zwei (two) and drei (three) which describe items by quantity.
German and English numbers have a lot in common, making them fun and easy to learn. First, I'll teach you how to count in German up to 99 quadrillion and beyond!
Later on, I'll explain how the German case system can complicate matters.
German Numbers: 0 To 12
The numbers zero through twelve are unique in German, so you'll have to learn them by heart. Fortunately, many of the numbers sound very similar to their English counterparts, as you can see in the chart above.
Remember that ‘z' is pronounced like the English ‘ts,' and ‘s' at the beginning of a word is pronounced ‘z.' Once you learn these first twelve digits, you'll have no trouble learning the rest.
German Numbers: 13 To 99
The numbers thirteen through nineteen follow a simple pattern that you'll grasp in no time. The table above shows you what I mean.
As you can see, you take the numbers three through nine and add a ten, or zehn to the end. For number sixteen, you need to remove the ‘s' ending, only taking the “stem” of the word, in this case, sech. Similarly with seventeen, you drop the –en ending and only take the sieb.
So far, the numbers have been straightforward, right? Next, I'll show you how easy it is to count to 99 in German. In English, we add a ‘ty' ending to form twenty, thirty, forty, etc. German has a similar approach, but with a zig ending.
The only exceptions are zwanzig (twenty), dreißig (thirty), and siebzig (seventy). These numbers change their stems before adding a –zig ending.
The most significant difference between English and German becomes evident when we start to combine ten and single units.
- Example: twenty-one becomes one and twenty, or einundzwanzig.
Germans say the smaller digit before the larger one, and connect both with the word und (and).
All the numbers up to 99 follow this rule without exceptions. Until you reach the millions, all the numbers are written as a single word.
German Numbers: 100 And Beyond
Now actually comes the easiest part. You can already count to 99, so counting beyond is simply a matter of learning the names of large-scale numbers.
The good news is, the German translations are almost identical to the English equivalents.
The numbers after one million can be confusing. Unlike English, German alternates between -illion and -illiarde suffixes for the numbers million, trillion, billion, etc.
When you want to say a year up until 1999, the numbers are pronounced in tens of hundreds.
- For example: 1984 – Neunzehnhundertvierundachtzig
To say how many times, use the number and mal.
- Example: Wenn du das noch einmal machst! (If you do that one more time!)
Zweimal (twice), dreimal (three times), and neunundneunzigmal (99 times), follow the same pattern.
German Numbers: Ordinal vs Cardinal
So far, you've learned all the cardinal numbers, or numbers indicating quantity. Next, I'll dive into ordinal numbers. Ordinal numbers tell us where an item stands on a list.
For example, first, second, and third are all ordinal numbers. You'll be delighted to know that these digits are even easier to form in the German language. Well, at least the numbers in their nominative forms are simple.
All the ordinal numbers from one to 19 take a –te ending. Only the numbers one, three, and seven change their stems slightly before we add the ending. Figures 20 and above take a –ste ending.
When you write a date in German, use a ‘.' to indicate an ordinal number.
- For example: Dienstag, 2. April (Tuesday, the 2nd of April)
So far, ordinal numbers have been straightforward. Unfortunately, ordinal numbers are also adjectives, which are affected by cases and require adjective endings.
How Cases Affect German Numbers
The ordinal numbers are considered adjectives in German grammar and require adjective endings. Which ending to use depends on whether you're using a definite “the” or indefinite “a” article.
Another factor you have to consider is the gender of the verb. You can use the following tables as a reference until you become familiar with the endings.
Numbers following indefinite articles take the following endings.
Numbers without articles are declined in the following way.
Remember that possessive pronouns are formed in the same way as indefinite articles. You can replace ein with dein, (your) mein, (my), ihr (her), sein, (his), or other pronouns, plus the corresponding adjective ending.
The plural form is created by adding an ‘n' ending.
Tips And Tricks For Numbers And Cases
You probably noticed that there are a few differences between each table. I've summarized the main focus points to help accelerate your learning process.
- The feminine cases with definite and indefinite articles are the same.
- The masculine cases for definite and indefinite articles only differ in the nominative.
- The neuter cases for definite and indefinite articles differ in the nominative and accusative.
Endings for numbers before masculine words without articles are the same as the indefinite masculine endings, except that the dative case takes an –em ending instead of an –en ending.
Similarly, numbers before neuter words without articles are the same as the indefinite endings, except that the dative case takes an –em ending instead of an –en ending.
Feminine numbers without articles take -er endings in the dative and genitive cases.
- Example: Sie wohnt im vierten Stock. (She lives on the fourth floor.)
- Example: Deutsch ist meine dritte Fremdsprache. (German is my third foreign language.)
You can learn more about the German cases here.
How To Write German Numbers
There are a couple of differences when it comes to writing numbers in German.
Hundreds are separated by periods or spaces:
- Example: 20,000 in English becomes 20.000 or 20 000 in German
Decimals are indicated by commas:
- Example: 2.5 million in English becomes 2,5 million in German
Prices use commas too:
- Example: $4.75 in English becomes $4,75 in German.
Remember that the German language uses commas and periods backward from the way we do in English.
Finally, you may be wondering how to express fractions, such as a half, third, or fourth.
All fractions add an ‘l' ending to the ordinal stem, except for die Hälfte, or half.
German Numbers: An Easier Aspect Of German
By now, you've realised that learning to count in German is a matter of learning the first 13 numbers, null through zwölf. All the other numbers are merely a combination of these digits.
You've also learned that many numerical expressions are almost identical to their English equivalents. For example, hundert (hundred) tausend (thousand) and million (million) are basically the same in both languages.
Cardinal numbers are those that express a given quantity, such as one, ten, and twenty. Ordinal numbers, on the other hand, indicate a position in a list, such as first, tenth, and twentieth.
Despite the initial intimidating appearance of adjective endings, they share many similarities. Once you're familiar with these patterns, figuring out which one to use will become second nature.
Finally, German uses commas and periods opposite from the way we do in English. To express a fraction, add an ‘l' ending to the ordinal numbers. I hope you've enjoyed learning about the German world of numbers.