Ordinal Numbers – Korean Numbers #7

Today's topic is ordinal number. The word, ordinal number, sounds difficult, but it's about numbers like first, second, third and so on. Ordinal numbers are used to describe the order of something. Like many other numbers in Korean, there are 2 kinds of ordinal numbers in Korean.

The first ordinal number system is just adding 째 next to pure Korean numbers.

첫째, 둘째, 셋째, 넷째, 다섯째, 여섯째, 일곱째, 여덟째, 아홉째, 열째

One thing to note is that the first is not 한째 or 하나째, it's 첫째.

첫째 조건은 네가 이 팀에 들어 오는 거야.
The first condition is that you should enter this team.

매달 첫째 월요일에는 실적 보고가 있다.
On every first Monday, there is a performance report.


The second ordinal number system is adding 번째 after numbers.

첫 번째, 두 번째, 세 번째, 네 번째, 다섯 번째, 여섯 번째, 일곱 번째, 여덟 번째, 아홉 번째, 열 번째

Again, there are exceptions. The first is 첫 번째, it's not 일 번째 or 한 번째 or 하나 번째. And the pure Korean exception rule of 하나, 둘, 셋, 넷, 스물 works here too. If these numbers are in front of 번째, they are 두 번째, 세 번째, 네 번째, 스무 번째.

When the number is over 10, just read it with pure Korean numbers.

열한 번째, 열두 번째, 열세 번째, …

You can notice that 열한 번째 is not 열첫 번째. 첫 came from the word, 처음, beginning. So, you cannot use it here.

When the number is over 20, you can use both pure Korean and Sino-Korean numbers. However, pure Korean numbers are more frequently used. 서른 세번째 is more natural than 삼십삼 번째.

학교에 첫번째로 온 것은 나고, 두 번째로 온 것은 민아야.
I came to school first and 민아 came second.

1점이 모자라서 두 번째 금메달을 따는 데에는 실패했다.
Because of the single point, she couldn't get her second gold medal.

Are They Interchangeable?

You might have wondered these two systems are interchangeable. The answer is yes and no.

In many cases, they are interchangeable. However, there are some cases that you shouldn't use them interchangeably.

First, when you are talking about your family, you cannot use 번째. Sometimes, we call our family by their age like first son, second daughter, third aunt, etc. These words are 첫째 아들, 둘째 딸, 셋째 이모 in Korean. They shouldn't be 첫 번째 아들, 두 번째 딸, 세 번째 이모, etc.

첫째 딸은 의사고 둘째 딸은 선생님이예요.
First daughter is a doctor and the second is a teacher.

When you are talking about rank or repetition of action, you should only use 번째.

Let's revisit the examples above.

학교에 첫 번째로 온 것은 나고, 두 번째로 온 것은 민아야.

In this sentence, we are talking about the rank. So, if you use 째 here, it becomes a bit awkward.

1점이 모자라서 두 번째 금메달을 따는 데에는 실패했다.

From this sentence, we can guess that she got a gold medal before and she tried to get the second one but she failed. It's the repetition of getting gold medal. So, you should not use 둘째 here.

첫째 조건은 네가 이 팀에 들어 오는 거야.
매주 첫째 월요일에는 실적 보고가 있다.

첫째 조건 or 첫째 월요일 is not a rank or repetition of action. They are just the first item in each sequence. In these cases, you can use both 째 and 번째. So, it's okay to say like following:

첫 번째 조건은 네가 이 팀에 들어 오는 거야.
매주 첫 번째 월요일에는 실적 보고가 있다.