Singulative number

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For other uses of "collective number", see Numeral (linguistics)#Identifying numerals.
Not to be confused with collective noun.

In linguistics, singulative number and collective number (abbreviated SGV and COL) are terms used when the grammatical number for multiple items is the unmarked form of a noun, and the noun is specially marked to indicate a single item. When a language using a collective-singulative system does mark plural number overtly, that form is called the plurative.

This is the opposite of the more common singularplural pattern, where a noun is unmarked when it represents one item, and is marked to represent more than one item.


Welsh has two systems of grammatical number, singular–plural and collective–singulative. Plurals are unpredictable and formed in several ways: by adding a suffix to the end of the word (usually -au), as in tad and tadau, through vowel mutation, as in bachgen and bechgyn, or through a combination of the two, as in chwaer and chwiorydd. Other nouns take the singulative suffixes -yn (for masculine nouns) or -en (for feminine nouns). Most nouns which inflect according to this system designate objects that are frequently found in groups, for example adar "birds/flock of birds", aderyn "bird"; mefus "a bed of strawberries", mefusen "a strawberry"; plant "children", plentyn "a child"; and coed "forest", coeden "a tree". Still other nouns use suffixes for both singular and plural forms (e.g. merlen "pony", merlod "ponies"); these are similar to nouns formed from other categories of words (e.g. cardod "charity" gives rise to cardotyn "beggar" and cardotwyr "beggars").

A collective form, such as the Welsh moch "pigs" is more basic than the singular form (mochyn "pig"). It is generally the collective form which is used as an adjectival modifier, e.g. cig moch ("pig meat", "pork"). The collective form is therefore similar in many respects to an English mass noun such as "rice", which in fact refers to a collection of items which are logically countable. However, English has no productive process of forming singulative nouns (just phrases such as "a grain of rice"). Therefore, English cannot be said to have singulative number.

In Arabic grammar, the singulative is called اسم الوحدة, "noun of unity". It is formed by the suffixes ة -a(t) and ي -ī. The former applies to animals, plants, and inanimate objects,[1] e.g. قمح qamḥ "wheat", قمحه qamḥa(t) "a grain of wheat"; حجر ḥajar 'rocks' or 'rock' (the material in general), حجرة ḥajara(t) 'a rock'; شجر shajar 'trees', شجرة shajara(t) 'a tree'; بقر baqar 'cattle'; بقرة baqara(t) 'a cow'. The latter suffix applies to sentient beings, e.g., جند jund 'army', جندي jundī 'a soldier'; جن jinn (collective), جني jinnī (singulative); زنج zinj 'the negro race' (collective), زنجى zinjī 'a negro' (singulative).

Singulative markers are found throughout the Nilo-Saharan languages. Majang, for example, has collective ŋɛɛti 'lice', singulative ŋɛɛti-n 'louse'. (Bender 1983:124).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wright, William. A Grammar of the Arabic language 2. Cambridge University Press. p. 147. ISBN 1-84356-028-3. 


  • Bender, M. Lionel. 1983. "Majang phonology and morphology". In Nilo-Saharan Language Studies, 114-147. East Lansing: Michigan State University.
  • Corbett, Greville G. 2000. Number. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33845-X
  • Tiersma, Peter Meijes. 1982. "Local and General Markedness." Language 58.4: 832-849