What is the correct term to describe the words in the following sequence: primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, denary, duodenary, etc.

I am thinking '-tier' but I don't think I am correct.

2 Answers 2


I believe the words you have there are Latinate ordinal numbers.

  • 3
    This answer I think is the more complete one because it is necessary to call them Latinate to differentiate from first, second, etc., (even though second is of latinate origin...)
    – user31341
    Nov 29, 2012 at 0:16
  • Their role English probably must be special, distinct from the normal ordinal numbers. Just calling them "Latinate" wouldn't explain this special role. Compare to Russian: the translation of these English Latinate ordinal numbers into Russian are words different than the normal Russian ordinals, but formed from the same Russian roots for ordinals: первый (first) vs первичный (primary), второй vs вторичный, etc. There might be a more universal description of the role these words play in a language. Nov 29, 2012 at 15:28

From Wikipedia's Ordinal number (linguistics) article:

In linguistics, ordinal numbers are the words representing the rank of a number with respect to some order, in particular order or position (i.e. first, second, third, etc.). Its use may refer to size, importance, chronology, etc. ... They are different from the cardinal numbers (one, two, three, etc.) referring to the quantity. Ordinal numbers are alternatively written in English with numerals and letter suffixes: 1st, 2nd or 2d, 3rd or 3d, 4th, 11th, 21st, 101st, 477th, etc. ... Spatial or chronological ranks will use the standard linguistic ordinal numbers first, second, etc.; however, the ranking of precedence or effect often uses primary, secondary, etc.[2] and historical rankings in literature, biology or music may use Greek prefixes, e.g., Proto-Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah ...


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