Old English/Numbers

In Old English, numbers (ġetalu) are almost all recognizably related to those of Modern English, so they shouldn't be too hard to learn for a Modern English speaker.

Cardinal numbers


Cardinal numbers (hēafodġetalu) are used to count and enumerate things, like "one", "two", and "three".

The number one


Ān (“one”) was declined exactly like an ordinary strong adjective:

Ān - "one"
Case Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative ān ān ān
Accusative ān-ne ān-e ān
Genitive ān-es ān-re ān-es
Dative ān-um ānre ān-um
Instrumental ān-e ān-re ān-e

Note that ān could be declined weak and follow the noun, and when that happened, it had the meaning of "only", "alone", "no other than".

The declension of “two” was quite irregular:

Tƿēġen - "two"
Case Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative tƿēġen tƿā tƿā, tū
Accusative tƿēġen tƿā tƿā, tū
Genitive tƿēga tƿēga tƿēga
Dat./Inst. tƿām tƿām tƿām

As can be seen from the table above, the neuter nominative/accusative could be either tƿā or . In poetry, neuter nouns were usually used with . However, in prose, they often occurred with tƿā instead, especially in Late West Saxon prose, where was almost completely absent.


Þrī - "three"
Case Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative þrī þrēo þrēo
Accusative þrī þrēo þrēo
Genitive þrēora þrēora þrēora
Dat. and instr. þrīm þrīm þrīm

Note that the form þrī was only used in the West Saxon dialect. In the other dialects, þrēo was the nominative/accusative form for all three genders.

Four to Nineteen


The numbers from four (fēoƿer) onwards usually weren't declined at all: Þā fēoƿer tīda sind ƿinter, lengten, sumer, and hærfest (“The four seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall”), Ealle cattas sƿulton eahta sīðum (“All cats have died eight times”). When they were declined, they followed the inflection of plural i-stem nouns: nominative/accusative -e, genitive -a, dative -um. This had a tendency to happen only when they did not immediately precede the quantified noun: On þām mynstre ƿǣron fīf ġebrōðru oþþe sixe (“In the monastery were five [uninflected] monks or six [inflected]”).

  • fēoƿer - four
  • fīf - five
  • siex - six
  • seofon - seven
  • eahta - eight
  • nigon - nine
  • tīen - ten
  • endleofan - eleven
  • tƿelf - twelve
  • þrēotīne - thirteen
  • fēoƿertīne - fourteen
  • fīftīne - fifteen
  • siextīne - sixteen
  • seofontīne - seventeen
  • eahtatīne - eighteen
  • nigontīne - nineteen

Multiples of Ten


The tens from 20 onwards were formed by combining a smaller numeral with -tiġ: “twenty” is tƿēntiġ (think tƿēġen-tiġ), “thirty” is þrītiġ (*þrī-tiġ), “forty” is fēoƿertiġ (*fēoƿer-tiġ), and so on, as if modern English had twoty, threety, fourty, fivety, etc.

However, that's where the morphology of these numbers stops being intuitive. The prefix hund- is attached to the tens seventy and above, so that “sixty, seventy, eighty” is sixtiġ, hundseofontiġ, hundeahtatiġ. No one knows why this prefix starts with seventy, or why it's even there. Oddly, the tens run past 100 and all the way up to 120, as if modern English had "tenty, eleventy, twelvety." Hence “100, 110, 120” in Old English was hundtēontiġ, hundendleftiġ, hundtƿelftiġ.

Multiples of Ten
20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120
tƿēntiġ þrītiġ fēoƿertiġ fīftiġ sixtiġ hundseofontiġ hundeahtatiġ hundnigontiġ hundtēontiġ hundendleftiġ hundtƿelftiġ

From 21 to 129, non-round numbers were formed with the phrase "[smaller number] and [larger number]." So twenty-two was tƿā and tƿēntiġ, literally “two and twenty,” while sixty-nine was nigon and sixtiġ, literally “nine and sixty.” This structure is the same as in many modern, sister languages to English such as German.

Numbers 20 and above usually have nouns in genitive case: "fifty feral hogs" is fīftiġ ƿildra sƿīna, literally "fifty of wild hogs."

One hundred


Old English had three words for “hundred”: hund, hundred, and hundtēontiġ. Hund and hundred were mainly used as multiplicands, as in tƿā hund / tƿā hundred (“two hundred”). There was apparently no discernible distinction between hund and hundred or when they were used, except that hund occurs seven times as often as hundred. Meanwhile, hundtēontiġ was mainly used as an augend, as in fēoƿer and hundtēontiġ (“a hundred and four”) or hundtēontiġ and seofon and þrītiġ (“a hundred and thirty-seven”). Hundtēontiġ was also the default expression for exactly one hundred and was used in the counting sequence: ...nigon and hundnigontiġ, hundtēontiġ, ān and hundtēontiġ... (“...ninety-nine, a hundred, a hundred and one...”).

While the default order was "[smaller number] and [larger number]" for the tens from twenty onwards, numerical word order was otherwise very much like modern English, with hundreds coming before tens. Hence 153 was hundtēontiġ and þrēo and fīftiġ (“a hundred and three-and-fifty”) and 1,153 was þūsend and hundtēontiġ and þrēo and fīftiġ, literally “a thousand and one hundred and three-and-fifty.”

Ordinal numbers


Ordinal numbers (endebyrdlīcu ġetalu) are used to rank things in a particular order, like "first", "second", and "third". All ordinal number forms followed weak declension, except for "ōðer ("second"), which was always strong.

In Modern English, for most numbers, we just add the suffix "-th" to the cardinal form of the number to form an ordinal, as in "nine" - "ninth". Similarly, in Old English, the normal basic suffix to form ordinal forms from cardinal numbers was "-þa", but sometimes it varied slightly.

The ordinals for the numbers 1 to 3 were formed unpredictably. They were:

  • forma - first
  • ōðer - second (compare Modern English "other")
  • þridda - third

The ordinals for some of the rest of the "under-twenties" are not always fully predictable. They are:

  • fēorða - fourth
  • fīfta - fifth
  • sixta - sixth
  • seofoþa - seventh (note that "n" disappeared before the "-þa" suffix)
  • eahtoþa - eighth
  • nigoþa - ninth (same thing happens as with "seofoþa")
  • tēoða - tenth (whence the Modern English word "tithe" - also, same thing as with "seofoþa")
  • endlefta - eleventh
  • tƿelfta - twelfth
  • þrēotēoða - thirteenth (the word "þrēo" plus the word "tēoða")
  • fēoƿertēoða - fourteenth
  • fīftēoða - fifteenth
  • sixtēoða - sixteenth
  • seofontēoða - seventeenth
  • eahtatēoða - eighteenth
  • nigontēoða - nineteenth

The ordinals for the decades are easily formed just by adding the suffix "-oþa" to the normal cardinal form, always. Like this:

  • tƿēntigoþa - twentieth
  • þrītigoþa - thirtieth
  • fēoƿertigoþa - fortieth
  • fiftigoþa - fiftieth
  • sixtigoþa - sixtieth
  • hundseofontigoþa - seventieth
  • hundeahtatigoþa - eightieth
  • hundnigontigoþa - ninetieth
  • hundteontigoþa - hundred/teentieth
  • hundendleftigoþa - hundred and ten/eleventieth
  • hundtƿelftigoþa - hundred and twenty/twelftieth

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