Talk:Grammatical number

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--Eldin raigmore (talk) 15:16, 22 October 2009 (UTC)

The featured French article contains a(t least one) mistake which has been corrected here but not there; it talks about the "quadriel" number, which as has been remarked probably doesn't really exist. Would someone who speaks French please correct that article?--Eldin raigmore (talk) 00:18, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

Semantic and grammatical roles of number[edit]

This section is about numerals, not about grammatical number. Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:39, 12 April 2012 (UTC)

I moved this section from the article, because it doesn't relate to the topic of the article; however, it does seem encyclopedic, and I hope it will find a home in some article. Ruakh 03:09, 18 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The most characteristic use of numbers is as cardinal quantifiers, but it is possible to use numbers as ordinal quantifiers and as nominals (Wiese 1993). For example, in English:

  1. In There are twenty horses in the ring, twenty is used to indicate the cardinality of the collection "the number of horses in the ring";
  2. In Paul finished twentieth in the race, twenty is used to indicate the ordinality of Paul's position in the sequence "the finishing positions in the race";
  3. In London's number twenty bus goes to Waterloo, twenty is used as an adjective to select which of "London's buses" we are talking about.

The above examples see the number 20 being used in three different roles, and as both quantifier and adjective. Additionally, number may be used as a noun, as indicated in "The number of horses is twenty", and "Paul's finishing position in the race was twentieth".

Not all of these semantic and grammatical roles occur in all languages. For example, languages originating in cultures that do not need to rapidly generate many tags for similar objects will generally not need nominal uses of number.

hi. yes, this a bit tangential.
i do wish that something could be written about grammatical number vs semantic number, though. cheers – ishwar  (speak) 04:53, 2005 Jun 18 (UTC)
I was looking for a discussion of the various forms of numbers in languages, such as represented in English by one, first, once, one-part, ace (followed by deuce, trey), solo and so on. Is there anywhere else that it can be found? While it is not, strictly speaking, related to Grammatical number, it certainly belongs somewhere, and at least merits a link from this article and in the disambiguation page for Number. TomS TDotO (talk) 17:56, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Suggestion for improving the article[edit]

I don't have the time for this right now, but someone who does might take a look at the French version of this article. It's quite well written, and could help improve the English version a great deal. FilipeS 13:10, 13 November 2007 (UTC)

However the French version of this article contains errors; in particular it refers to the quadral ("quadriel") number of Sursunga in New Ireland, which as we have seen here is not a quadral grammatical number. -- (talk) 00:34, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

How about adding a few words about the English and German paucal forms such as: a pair of geese/ ein Paar Gänse versus some geese/ein paar Gänse? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:36, 6 January 2009 (UTC)

That isn't a paucal form, it's the use of a collective term with the plural, no different from "a dozen geese" or "a gross of geese". A paucal form would be if there were a third form in addition to "goose" and "geese" and that form were used for some small set of numbers greater than 1 and less than the numbers to which the plural applies. Imagine a system like one goose, two goosen, three goosen, four goosen, five goosen, six geese, seven geese, .... —Largo Plazo (talk) 11:04, 6 January 2009 (UTC)

There is no such word as "quadrual"; and there is no such grammatical number as "quadral".[edit]

There is no such word as "quadrual". The correct word is "quadral".

There is no such grammatical number as "quadral". It has been extensively investigated, and the consensus of the world's linguists after some four decades is that no natural language has such a grammatical number, and there is no evidence tending to indicate that any natural language ever did.

Eldin raigmore (talk) 14:32, 14 October 2009 (UTC)

Czech Wikipedia claims that czech sign language has that category.

LinguistManiac Thu Apr 29 12:05:14 CEST 2010

Quadrual and the Need for Checking your Sources' Sources' Sources[edit]

At 08:22, 27 February 2009 Cesium 133 revised the "Grammatical Number" article's "Types of Number" section to include a subsection on "Quadrual" [1].

In doing so s/he made the following mistakes. (I hope s/he won't be offended by this list; I've made plenty of similar mistakes, and probably didn't know not to until my late thirties.)

First mistake: S/he cited the online source [2], which is about bases for numeral systems (such as binary, decimal, hexadecimal, vigesimal, etc.), not about grammatical number (such as single, plural, etc.). A more careful reading of the part of Note 49 [3] having to do with Aristotle's remarks about the Thracians might have made him/her suspicious that the author's first sentence in that note was wrong; Aristotle was saying the Thracians used a base-four numeral system, not that they had a quadral grammatical number. So the author T. E. Rihll was already wrong when Cesium 133 quoted him. (In fact, while most numeral systems with a base use ten or twenty, some of Greenberg's students reported that twelve and five and four were among the most common bases other than ten or twenty.)

Second mistake: S/he also cited the book Gregersen, Edgar A., "Language in Africa", p. 62 [1] to support a statement about Marshallese. But Gregersen's book doesn't discuss Marshallese at all because Marshallese is not an African language and isn't spoken in Africa. Gregersen only said "... quadrual (four), is reported for Marshalese in the Pacific but does not occur at all in Africa.". If Cesiium 133 wanted to follow that up s/he should have found Gregersen's source for that remark in Gregersen's bibliography or references and found a quote in that, rather than just this unsupported comment from Gregersen.

Third mistake: S/he spelled the word "quadrual". A quick search of the web would have shown that "quadrual" was not the right spelling; for instance the Cambridge dictionary [4] does not contain any such lexeme. Both of the sources mentioned above also mis-spelled it, but they were wrong. The correct spelling is "quadral" (without the second "u"), not "quadrual".

Fourth mistake: S/he did not do a literature search to find out that the notion that any language has a "quadral grammatical number" is out-of-date and has been since 2000. In June of 1994[2][3] Greville Corbett was trying to get the world's linguists to help him find what he needed to know to write the "CAMBRIDGE TEXTBOOKS IN LINGUISTICS" volume "NUMBER"[4]. By sometime in 2000[5][6] he had all their responses and found that no report of a "quadral grammatical number" had been borne out. It isn't just a matter of disagreement between professionals; for at least two of the three languages that were regarded as most likely to actually have a quadral number, the field-researcher who found that it did not after all, was the same as the field-researcher who raised the possibility in the first place.


Please remember that your sources can contain misprints; please remember that your sources can be out-of-date; and please remember that your sources can be just plain wrong.

Try to find at least two hard-copy sources for each fact you state.

Also, do a literature search, or at least a search of the web or of Google or of Wikipedia or something, to find out if those sources are in a minority regarding the factuality of your statement.

And, make sure that your sources' topic actually has something to do with the topic of the statement you are putting in the wiki; if it doesn't, then try to find out what the source's source was for that statement, and keep going back until you find a book or paper by an actual expert on that topic. Then search forward to see if that expert has published anything more recent contradicting that.

In some cases the same term might be used differently in different fields. Cesium 133 and T. E. Rihll seemed to assume that "quadrual" meant "base four" the same way "decimal" means "base ten" and "vigesimal" means "base twenty". But the base for the numeral system has nothing to do with the grammatical number; if it did, English would either have grammatical numbers singular, dual, trial, quadral, pental, sexal, septal, octal, nonal, decimal, and plural; or, English's numeral system would be "base one".--Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:47, 18 October 2009 (UTC)

--Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:40, 18 October 2009 (UTC)

"0.57 second" or "0.57 seconds"?[edit]

The question, "What is the correct grammatical number for nouns preceded by number whose magnitude is strictly less than 1?" was recently asked at WT:MOSNUM#"0.57 second" or "0.57 seconds"?. The answer so far arrived at there seems to be "Nobody knows". The question doesn't seem to be addressed in this article. Perhaps it should be. Wtmitchell (talk) (earlier Boracay Bill) 04:49, 22 October 2009 (UTC)

The answer varies from language to language even for languages that share a similar system of grammatical number.
There are other questions that also arise about how to match a grammatical number with a numeral that is not a positive whole number.
Even if the language has only "singular" and "plural" grammatical numbers, a question arises whenever the numeral is less than one (including zero or negative as well as fractional), or more than one but less than two (a mixed-fraction numeral).
For languages with a dual number distinct from singular and from plural, the question arises not only of what to do with 0.5, 1.5, 0.8, 1.2, etc., but also 1.8, 2.5, 2.2, 2.8 etc.
For English the answer appears to be usually "if it's not 'one', use a plural". For French, the answer appears to be different. I know this has been stated in print and in an online-searchable source, but I don't remember what the source was.
So perhaps the answer should be given in each specific language's section on grammatical number, and this cross-linguistic article on "Grammatical Number" should only mention that such sections contain such answers.
In English it may depend on how the fraction-numeral is written and pronounced. We might say "half a second" but "0.5 seconds"; "fifty-seven hundredths of a second" but "0.57 seconds".
It is less clear how grammatical number should match up with a mixed-fraction numeral greater than 1 but less than 2. We would probably say "1.5 seconds", but would we say "one-and-a-half second" or "one-and-a-half seconds"? I think we would probably say "one-and-a-half seconds" but "a second and a half".
I apologetically admit that the above doesn't satisfy the "verifiability" nor the "no original research" requirements of Wikipedia.
You say "The question doesn't seem to be addressed in this article. Perhaps it should be." I encourage you to do so. (Is that being WP:BOLD ?)
--Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:23, 22 October 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for the info and the suggestion. After a quick read of this article, I concluded that, though it contains info of interest to me, its contents are outside of my expertise. I have on occasion been overly bold as an editor, but I think that I will refrain from that in this case. If I stumble across something which looks useful in a reliable source, I'll consider adding it to the article. Wtmitchell (talk) (earlier Boracay Bill) 22:36, 22 October 2009 (UTC)
I have asked on, on, and on, for any information anyone has about such a reliable source. So far the only response is from someone who expects to publish such a thing in a year or so. So I know the answer is coming, but I really would rather not wait that long.
There are additional resources I could try; is one, and also I could ask a question of But I need time to correctly direct and phrase such a question, and I haven't had such time yet.
--Eldin raigmore (talk) 20:20, 23 October 2009 (UTC)
[5] says "When fractional or decimal expression are 1 or less, the word they modify should be singular: 0.7 meter, 0.22 cubic foot, 0.78 kilometer." It also says "The advice proffered here is meant primarily for standard academic prose. Business and technical writing sometimes goes by a different set of standards, and writers of those kinds of text should consult a manual dedicated to those standards. (The APA Publication Manual has an extensive section devoted to the use of numbers in technical papers. The Chicago Manual of Style [chapter 13] addresses just about every issue that might come up in a technical or mathematical text.)"
[6] has some rather complicated rules, depending on whether the noun is a count-noun or a mass-or-measure noun, and whether it is a collective noun or not.
[7] is among other sites that seem to agree.
All in all, what I've found so far is that there is a set of rules that some people agree on, but also many agree that "getting it wrong" is not really anything to be embarrassed about.
--Eldin raigmore (talk) 20:44, 23 October 2009 (UTC)

16:38, 6 January 2010 Eldin raigmore (Undid revision 335610587 by Kwamikagami[edit]

16:38, 6 January 2010 Eldin raigmore (talk | contribs) (30,404 bytes) (Undid revision 335610587 by Kwamikagami Kwamikagami: That's not what Corbett's book said. The difference, according to his book, is not "roughly 'few' vs 'several'", as you say; rather, the difference seems to be between a tightly-connected group and a loosely-connected group. --Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:42, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

If you know that the particular edition of Corbett's book which was quoted, was in fact wrong, please cite your more-up-to-date reference. If you know that what was said in Corbett's book is not true of one or some of the mentioned languages, please distinguish which languages were erroneously reported as having a trial (that should have been called "lesser paucal") and a quadral (that should have been called "greater paucal"), and give a reference. --Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:59, 6 January 2010 (UTC)--Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:49, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

What source says no language is known to have trial number in its nouns?[edit]

I put a "citation needed" template on the "no known language has trial number in its nouns" clause. --Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:53, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Also; "some registers of Tok Pisin have trial ..."? Which registers? --Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:20, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Paucal in Southern American English?[edit]

In Texas (that I know of) and perhaps elsewhere, the pronoun "y'all" is used for small groups of people; for larger groups, speakers will say "all y'all". For example, to a group of five friends, "Y'all come on over next Saturday, y'hear?", but to a crowd, "All y'all please stand for the National Anthem." Would "y'all" in this usage effectively be a paucal?--Curtis Clark (talk) 14:45, 7 January 2010 (UTC)

If that were true, yes; but in my 'lect of Texan it isn't so. "You" is second person singular and "you all" or "y'all" is second person plural; "all y'all" is emphatic about the "'all" part, that is, explicitly includes each and every addressee. --Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:37, 7 January 2010 (UTC)
Interesting. I grew up in Oklahoma, and even my east Texas relatives didn't use "all y'all", so I know of it only from a few examples and from attestation.--Curtis Clark (talk) 14:47, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

Dual in Icelandic?[edit]

The article says: "Dual number existed in Proto-Indo-European [...] and can still be found in a few modern Indo-European languages such as Icelandic and Slovene language." As far as I know, Icelandic has no dual. Old Norse had a dual only with pronouns already, and I believe Icelandic does not have even that. (talk) 17:55, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

I don't speak Icelandic, but I remember reading that the Icelandic "dual" pronouns (i.e. the ones that came from Old Norse) are these days used, if at all, only to mark respect (think T-V) and not at all for number. But I think I may have just been reading this in a "teach yourself Icelandic" type phrasebook, not necessarily a reliable source.Eniagrom (talk) 21:22, 1 August 2010 (UTC)
Actually, you've got it exactly backwards: it's the dual pronouns which have become the regular plural pronouns, while the original plural pronouns are considered formal, poetic or archaic. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 15:40, 16 May 2011 (UTC)

Proposed merge from Classifiers with Number Morphology[edit]

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section. A summary of the conclusions reached follows.
Hearing no objection, I performed the merge. Cnilep (talk) 14:36, 16 April 2010 (UTC)

The article Classifiers with Number Morphology discusses one way that grammatical number is realized in languages with classifier systems. Since it is essentially an aspect of grammatical number and consists of two paragraphs plus several example sentences, I propose that it should be merged to Grammatical number. Cnilep (talk) 14:37, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

"Unmarked plural with marked singular" - is there such a thing?[edit]

The article says: "The third logical possibility, rarely found in languages, is an unmarked plural contrasting with marked singular." Are there any languages with marked singular and unmarked plural? I've never encountered such a language in all my studies. Somebody should add an actual example of such a plural form to the article, or else remove this statement. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:00, 18 October 2010 (UTC)

I don't think a marked singulative with an unmarked plural is a situation found in most nouns in any language I've ever read about. However I think I have read of languages in which a certain special small class of nouns were marked in this way. If I can find some such examples I'll post them. Eldin raigmore (talk) 00:00, 21 February 2014 (UTC)
Singulative number mentions Welsh as one of those languages. Eldin raigmore (talk) 13:52, 16 September 2015 (UTC)

Not so[edit]

The article says the modern English and French have only two grammatical numbers, singular and plural. This is not so. In modern English, "eight" is the dual of "four", suprisingly.

Probably, all modern Indo-European languages have a fragmentary dual. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:03, 1 August 2011 (UTC)
You are correct that eight is two times four, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of grammatical number. You either have one cow or you have two or four or eight or even nine cows. There is no different form of the word "cow" ( or indeed, any other word) that is used exclusively to indicate two. Wschart (talk) 18:11, 11 October 2011 (UTC)
"Eight" is not the dual of "four" in any way that makes sense. Ben (talk) 19:35, 11 October 2011 (UTC)


under types of number, then under dual, an example is "twice vs. <number> times" however that specific example seems incorrect because the word thrice exists, and I believe there is a word for up to ten times, I was thinking about removing the example, but I figured I'd ask opinions first. Hallaman3 (talk) 18:57, 12 September 2011 (UTC)

I'll go ahead and change it. Hallaman3 (talk) 00:54, 14 September 2011 (UTC)

Slovene as example of paucal?[edit]

Looking at [Slovene] it would seem to be another example of a language with paucal, but I'm not certain enough to make changes here. (I was thinking to add it as another example.) (talk) 11:13, 4 January 2012 (UTC)

In the title the language was misspelled as "Solvene". I changed it to "Slovene".

Incomplete references[edit]

A few years ago, you inserted references to ‘Hutchisson 1986’, ‘Capell 1971’ and ‘Beaumont 1976’ at Grammatical number. Could you please complete them with titles at least, and preferrably other details such as first name, publisher, perhaps place of publication &c.? (talk) 19:51, 26 December 2013 (UTC)
Sorry it took so long for me to notice your question. I have added the information you mentioned into the article.
•Hutchisson, Don. 1986. Sursurunga pronouns and the special uses of quadral number. In: Wiesemann, Ursula (ed.) Pronominal Systems. (Continuum 5). Tübingen: Narr. 217-255.
Capell, Arthur, 1971. The Austronesian Languages of Australian New Guinea. In: Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Current Trends in Linguistics
Beaumont, Clive H. 1976 Austronesian Languages: New Ireland. In: Stephen A. Wurm (ed.) Austronesian Languages: New Guinea Area Languages and Language Study II (Pacific Linguistics, Series C, no. 39) 387-97. Canberra:
Eldin raigmore (talk) 23:38, 20 February 2014 (UTC)

Optional number markings/Types[edit]

I think the "Number in specific languages" section could use an example of a language with optional number marking. Perhaps Indonesian, as it's used in the "Formal expression of number" section.

Is the level of detail for "quadral" necessary if there are no known instances of it in any natural language? I understand that it provides a more comprehensive history of types of numbers, but it goes into more detail than some of the types that have been observed.

Someone who knows more about it than I should see if they can do anything with the "Distributive plural" section, as the sentence seems to be incomplete. It is missing sources as well. This in particular may be of interest. - LewisHaas (talk) 06:18, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

Inverse number[edit]

I read this section a number of times and I can't make head or tail of what it is saying. Besides linguists, who is going to get any joy of writing like that? Rui ''Gabriel'' Correia (talk) 16:45, 12 October 2014 (UTC)

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