The differences between “第” and “头”

Posted: November 27, 2011 in Prepositions
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Both第一次[di4 yi1 ci4] and 头一次[tou2 yi1 ci4] mean “the first time”. However, there are several basic differences between the  usage of 第 and 头 which lead to  different meanings, which will be with several example sentences.

To begin with, 第 focuses on the previous times while 头 indicates the initial time, therefore 第三次 and 头三次 have dissimilar meanings. 第三次 means the third time whereas 头三次means the first three times.

考试[kao3 shi4] (exams) 成绩[cheng2 ji4] (results)

EX:这是我第三次的考试成绩。 This is the result of my third exam.

EX:这是我头三次的考试成绩。 These are the results of my first three exams.

Secondly, when 第 and 头 are coupled with 几[ji3] (how many), the usages of the two  phrases are different. 第几次 which means “how many times” is usually used in a question sentence. 头几次 meaning “the first few times” can be used in either a question sentence or a declarative sentence.

EX: 这是你第几次考试? How many times have you taken the exam?

EX:这是你头几次考试? Is this one of your first few exams?

EX:这是你头几次考试。This is one of my first few exams.

Finally, in Chinese “the first two times” is expressed as 头两次 instead of 头二次。However, 第二次is acceptable.

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