German numbers are an important part of the German language. They help us communicate in a number of situations, such as ordering drinks or food at a restaurant or determining when to meet up with your friends. They can even come in handy when solving simple math problems during your travels through the land of Autobahn and Apfelschorle (just think of calculating your travel expenses!)
When approached in the right way, German numbers are pretty easy to wrap one’s head around. Let me show you!
Basic German numbers (cardinal numbers)
This is probably the easiest part, which is why we’re starting with this category. You might already be familiar with a couple of expressions, such as “links, zwei, drei, vier”, which is a military command that helps soldiers march in unison (meaning nothing else but “left, two, three, four”).
The numbers shown in the table above are all cardinal numbers, which means they indicate a certain quantity (such as “three cats”).
Here are a few examples:
Sie hat drei Katzen. (She has three cats.)
Ich habe vier Anrufe in Abwesenheit erhalten. (I have received four missed calls.)
Wir haben zwei Apfelbäume in unserem Garten. (We have two apple trees in our garden.)
Er hat mit fünf lesen gelernt. (He learned to read at the age of five.)
[When indicating age in a sentence, you don’t have to necessarily add the word “Jahre” (years)—you can simply state the number alone. You’ll still be easily understood.]
Es ist ein Uhr in der Nacht. (It’s one o’clock at night.)
So cardinal numbers can be used to indicate a quantity or a price, but also to state the time (as shown in the last example).
Of course, there are more numbers than just the ones listed:
Similarly to the English language, German numbers between eleven and nineteen are also “split up”, counting the base number first and then adding zehn (“ten”) to it.
vierzehn = fourteen
neunzehn = nineteen
… and so on (see the table above).
Before we jump into the trickier part (this is German, after all …), let’s look at some examples first!
Sie hat mit neunzehn Jahren geheiratet. (She got married at the age of nineteen.)
Ich habe noch zwölf Euro übrig. (I still have twelve euros left.)
Ich habe es zwanzig Mal wiederholt. (I repeated it twenty times.)
German numbers: twenty and above
You were probably wondering when the tricky part was going to start. The not-so-good news is that we’ve now reached said part. The good news is that it is easier than you might think. Let’s have a closer look at German numbers starting at twenty.
As mentioned above, German numbers from eleven to nineteen are “split up”, counting the base number first. A similar thing happens with most numbers starting at twenty. There is, however, a minuscule difference:
As you can see in the table above, as soon as you get to the twenty-something range of German cardinal numbers, “und” (and) is added in between the base number and the number of tens.
In German, you basically “count” the amount stated:
- ein-und-zwanzig (one-and-twenty) = twenty-one
- sieben-und-zwanzig (seven-and-twenty) = twenty-seven
- vier-und-zwanzig (four-and-twenty) = twenty-four
This way of counting (with the word “and” between the two components of the number) probably sounds very strange for someone who’s not a native German speaker. But I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly!
Also, the word “dreißig” is spelled with the magical letter “ß” (pronounced “Eszet”), which basically sounds like a softer “S”.
The good news is that most German cardinal numbers are pretty much built in the exact same way:
Base number + und + number of tens
Specifically, this means that regardless of whether you take the German words for fifty-one or thirty-seven, they will both follow the formula above.
- einundfünfzig = fifty-one
- siebenunddreißig = thirty-seven
Round numbers, such as twenty, thirty or fifty don’t follow this formula. Instead, they are simply made up of one word, often ending in -zig:
Instead of saying “einhundert”, you can also informally just say “hundert”, which is more common in everyday German.
Ich habe hundert Euro von meiner Oma bekommen. (I received one hundred euros from my grandma.)
[Again, you could also say einhundert Euro, but it’s more common to just use the abbreviated form.]
Meine Nachbarin ist gestern achtzig Jahre alt geworden. (My neighbor turned eighty years old yesterday.)
[You could also say Meine Nachbarin ist gestern achtzig geworden.]
Er ist dreißig Jahre alt. (He is thirty years old.)
Das Brot kostet drei Euro siebzig. (The bread is three euros and seventy cents.)
Kann ich mir sechzig Dollar von dir leihen? (Can I borrow sixty dollars from you?)
Large German numbers
Now that I gave you the lowdown on the most important German cardinal numbers (and how they’re “built”), here are a few large numbers that might come in handy for day-to-day use.
|eine Million||one million|
|eine Milliarde||one billion|
Just like with the German number for one hundred, it is possible to shorten the word for one thousand. So instead of saying “eintausend”, you can simply say “tausend”. This is generally more common in spoken language.
So far I’ve only touched on round numbers in the range from one hundred to one billion. But what if you need to state a number like eight hundred thirty-five in German?
Just like before, the word “und” is added—and often more than just once.
Let me show you!
Imagine you’re trying to explain to someone in German how much is your rent. Your monthly rent is eight hundred thirty-five dollars. In German, you would say:
Ich zahle achthundert und fünfunddreißig Dollar Miete im Monat. (I pay eight hundred thirty-five dollars in rent per month.)
All larger German numbers are “assembled” according to this recipe:
- siebenhundert und neunundachtzig = seven hundred eighty-nine
- sechshundert und dreiundfünfzig = six hundred fifty-three
- dreihundert und dreiundzwanzig = three hundred twenty-five
Du hast ein paar Schuhe für vierhundert und fünfundachtzig Dollar gekauft? (You bought a pair of shoes for four hundred eighty-five dollars?)
Das Sofa kostet nur zweihundert und fünfundzwanzig Euro. (The couch is only two hundred twenty-five euros.)
Bebenhausen hat nur dreihundert und einundvierzig Einwohner. (Bebenhausen has only three hundred forty-one inhabitants.)
Ich habe es hundertfünfzig Mal gesagt! (I’ve said it a hundred fifty times!)
[This is a very common and informal expression in German, usually used to say that you’ve been talking until you were blue in the face. In this case, instead of saying “hundert und fünfzig”, you can simply leave out the “und”. This, however, cannot be applied to just any German number.]
Die Geschichten aus Tausendundeiner Nacht (The stories of One Thousand and One Nights)
German ordinal numbers
We’ve all heard ordinal numbers. Like when your mom told you for the “fiftieth time” you need to tidy up your room when you were a kid. Or when the news report that the forty-fifth President of the United States posted another tweet.
Ordinal numbers represent a rank or a position in a sequence. You can use them to state the date (say, November fifth) or when talking about who won second place in a local sports tournament.
Let’s have a look at ordinal numbers in German!
|der/die/das erste||the first|
|der/die/das zweite||the second|
|der/die/das dritte||the third|
|der/die/das vierte||the fourth|
|der/die/das fünfte||the fifth|
|der/die/das sechste||the sixth|
|der/die/das siebte||the seventh|
|der/die/das achte||the eighth|
|der/die/das neunte||the ninth|
|der/die/das zehnte||the tenth|
Er hat beim Wettbewerb den zweiten Platz belegt. (He took the second place at the competition.)
Heute ist der dritte März. (Today is March third.)
Ich habe als erstes den Hund gestreichelt. (I pet the dog first.)
Dies ist das vierte Buch, welches ich diesen Monat lese. (This is the fourth book I’m reading this month.)
“Das fünfte Element” ist mein Lieblingsfilm. (“The Fifth Element” is my favorite movie.)
In most cases, ordinal numbers are simply formed by adding a suffix to the cardinal number. The suffix –te is added to all numbers from one to nineteen. Exceptions here being the numbers one and three, where the root of the word completely changes: “erste” instead of “ein”, and “dritte” instead of “drei”.
Other exceptions are the numbers seven and eight. The cardinal number sieben becomes the ordinal number “siebte”, although in old and/or more poetic German the word “siebente” may also be used. This is, however, not very common.
Since the number “acht” already ends with the letter “t”, only –e is added in the suffix.
All ordinal numbers from twenty to one hundred are given the suffix –ste:
- der/die/das zwanzigste
- der/die/das fünfundsiebzigste
- der/die/das dreißigste
- der/die/das zweiundvierzigste
- der/die/das neunundneunzigste
Meine Großeltern feiern am Sonntag ihren dreiundfünfzigsten Hochzeitstag. (My grandparents celebrate their fifty-third anniversary on Sunday.)
Heute ist der einundzwanzigste August. (Today is August twenty-first.)
Ich habe die zweiundvierzigste Ausgabe nicht erhalten. (I didn’t receive the forty-second issue.)
All round German numbers (such as one hundred, two hundred or three hundred) have the suffix –ste added (→ der/die/das einhundertste, or also der/die/das hundertste in informal language).
- der/die/das dreihundertste
- der/die/das fünfhundertste
- der/die/das sechshundertste
- der/die/das neunhundertste
Same goes for really big numbers in German, such as “the millionth”: der/die/das millionste.
For large non-round numbers, the suffix –te is added.
- der/die/das hundertzweite = the one hundred second
- der/die/das zweihundertvierte = the two hundred fourth
- der/die/das dreihundertfünfte = the three hundred fifth
Das Fest findet dieses Jahr zum dreihundertsten Mal statt. (The celebration is taking place for the three hundredth time this year.)
Die Bar befindet sich im hundertdreizehnten Stock des Gebäudes. (The bar is on the one hundred thirteenth floor of the building.)
Die Stadtmauer wurde im neunhundertfünfundzwanzigsten Jahr nach Christus erbaut. (The city wall was built in the year nine hundred twenty-five A.D.)
I hope it was a good introduction to the world of German numbers—both cardinal and ordinal!
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