Should one say

  • 'the first 13 colonies on the planet Pelaton'


  • 'the 13 first colonies on the planet Pelaton'?
  • 1
    'First' is an adjective here and if you try to side-step the issue by saying "The 13 original colonies" it becomes clearer. In another context it is even clearer: "The 5 golden rings." Apr 21 at 17:28
  • 'The two first names that are most popular this year' obviously has [first names] as a coherent unit. Compare 'the two first-aiders saved many lives'. But when say 'the first thirteen colonies of what was to become the USA' is a synonym of 'the thirteen colonies that were first founded in what was to become the USA' (as here), 'first' must precede the numeral. Apr 21 at 18:42
  • @EdwinAshworth I've been musing about that since my comment. "The first 13 colonies" implies that there were more colonies later, but they were called 'states' or 'territories'. Is the "thirteen colonies" a recognised phrase? Apr 21 at 19:08
  • 1
    You may want to read this intro from the US government for those seeking citizenship: There were 13 original states. Name three. The 13 original states were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The 13 original states were the first 13 British colonies. americanhistory.si.edu/citizenship/learn/a-growing-nation/64/…
    – Lambie
    Apr 21 at 19:21
  • @WeatherVane In fact, it is a recognized phrase: google.com/… But, then you cant' use "first" with it.
    – LPH
    Apr 21 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


What you call "numerals" are in fact cardinal numbers, otherwise called cardinals (one, two, three, fouur, …); the set of all numerals consists, of the cardinal numbers and of the ordinal numbers (first, second, …).

The order should always be "ordinal - cardinal".

(CoGEL § 5.22) Ordinals cooccur with count nouns and usually precede any cardinal numbers in the noun phrase: • the first two days • another three weeks

"The 13 first colonies" and "the thirteen first colonies" is not found at all according to an ngram research (Google Books).

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"First colonies" is not defined as the initial colonies that appeared in the USA; generally, it represents a number of coloniesin a time sequence or even in an "importance" sequence.

Here is an instance of the several ways this can be put.

(Report - United States. Congress. House) The depatment of the Air Force has made a complete investigation of this accident and has given consideration to all the amounts as set forth in the original bills, which were thirteen in number, and has made its recommendation as to the amount found equitable in each claim. (1951)


To amplify on another answer, neither phrase is correct; only “the thirteen original colonies” is correct, as there were no other colonies following the original thirteen, since the Revolution ended the ability of England to add more colonies and all of the existing colonies joined the United States. There can never be thirteen first anythings, only one. When we refer to the first thirteen somethings, it’s the set of the first, the second, the third… up to to the thirteenth something, not thirteen first somethings.

  • There can be thirteen first elements if one selects from 13 distinct sets. The 13 first days of Spring since (and including) 2012. The 13 first symphonies to appear in this year's Classic FMM chart. // I've edited out the historical complication/inaccuracy to focus on the English language problem involved. The title demands a reasonable question, rather than a closed thread. Apr 21 at 23:40
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth CoGEL states that "the two last pages" could mean "the last page of each of two books". It seemq that this wouldn't be used in most cases, and that something such as "the last page in each book" ("the first day(s) of spring of each year since 2012"). Be that as it may, there is a problem of sing/pl form: when are we talking about a period of a few days at the beginning of each spring and when is it a question of a period of only one day each year?
    – LPH
    Apr 22 at 0:18

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