Talk:Numeral (linguistics)

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(inserted for readability Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:36, 4 March 2010 (UTC))

Are there any countries besides the US and Canada which use the American definition of "billion"? How about Australia? What about french-Canada? Philippines?

The UK has now adopted the North American billion. I don't know whether the process was formalised, but a billion is nearly always 109 here.

Wow, this is big news, then all the pages about number names are wrong. Are there any references?

Well if you take "The (London) Times" coverage of the last government budget, all the references to billions there are 109 :,,584-95524,00.html

Similarly, if you read the last official budget statement its clear that they either a) use the US billion or b) This is the richest country ever... (60 million people, 2.5 billion spending increase would be 40,000 GBP per capita, or about twice the average income :))

In Australia, these days everyone uses the American billion. -- Simon J Kissane

It makes sense to use the American system because it has finer granularity to be useful in the financial and statistical settings. The British system is probably good to use in astronomy only.

Sounds to me like the number pages need to be changed appropriately--retaining information about the old British system, of course... --LMS

Done. --AxelBoldt

Does anyone know when Britain and Australia switched to the American system? I'm too young to remember it happening here in Australia, but I know it happened at some stage... -- Simon J Kissane

I don't think there was an explicit switchover, it just happened, probably by exposure to US media. They were still teaching European billions back in the late 1980s whilst I was at primary school. --Robert Merkel

In South Africa you use the American system when you speak English and the European system when you speak Afrikaans - maybe that's why our currency has gone down the drain recently ... clasqm

The article still says "the American system" vs. "the European system"... I'm not sure exactly how this needs to be changed, but it does look like it needs to be changed. --LMS

Why is it claimed that the Japanese system does away with the redundancy of number names? They seem to need more words than the European system, and slightly less than the American system. --AxelBoldt

They have no "teen" words, and no "twenty", "thirty", ... "ninety" words.

That passage remains vague; reading the article, I couldn't figure out what it was trying to get at. I'm also not sure it's really true. Japanese and Korean, for example, have several parallel systems of numbers, one of native origin and one derived from Chinese. They are used in different ways and for different things. At least in Korean, there actually are native Korean equivalents to "twenty," "thirty," etc., and I wouldn't be surprised if they exist in Japanese too. --Reuben 00:04, 29 June 2006 (UTC)


In English the word no can function like a number.

One can ask "How many apples are there in the fruit bowl" and get the answer "There are no apples in the fruit bowl".

As such no is a synomym of zero.

Zero can only be used a predicate in a sentence, but no can not be used that way.

  • The number of apples is zero.
  • There are no apples.
what does "zed" mean?

The table at the beginning lists numbers from one to ten. I think that it should also indicate which of those systems do, and do not, have a number for zero! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:05, 10 December 2007 (UTC)

Removed this from the article, because it's completely confusing, and explained further down more clearly:

In the European system a billion is a million million, a trillion is a million billion, and so forth; a thousand billion is called a billiard, a thousand trillion a trilliard etc. In the American system a billion is a thousand million, a trillion is a thousand billion, and so forth. See more below.

There should be at least a link to some of the Mathematics of really large numbers. For example, the infamous arrow notation, such as 3^^^^3 which describes a really large number, but I forget the details.

This article needs to be refactored -- it is too long, and covers several topics. However, there's lots of good material in it!


I have removed a section about Numerology "science". I think it doesn't belong here (if anywhere at all). Or am I mistaken? 00:06, 6 February 2006 (UTC)

No. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:36, 4 March 2010 (UTC)


Someone proposed a split, so I'm starting the discussion. I definitely think 'numeral' as a part of speech needs its own article. The stuff on written numerals can probably be merged into other articles. Discussion of very large numerals is likewise a distinct subject. kwami (talk) 07:28, 7 August 2009 (UTC)

Pro split: Yes. Numerals are treated as a specific topic in grammars. This is a different topic than peoples' choice of number base, and how they do when counting on fingers (and toes). Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:46, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

Decimal - round numbers[edit]

The decimal section, claiming why decimal was/is so common says (among other reasons):

a human comfort level with rounded figures and the ease it can express and calculate very large numbers

This makes no sense. ANY base will yield round numbers 10000 is 'round' in any base --it just means different values in different bases. And the ability to calculate very large numbers is a function of positional notation, not the paricular base chosen for it. I've removed those two points. (talk) 17:35, 14 August 2009 (UTC)

Additional Chinese numerals[edit]

There is a slight problem in the table of Chinese numerals in the "Additional numerals" section. The article confuses "Traditional" and "Formal" numerals, both of which are labeled "complex" here. For a clearer explanation, see [1]. You will see that some of the characters on the "complex" row are traditional characters, while others are simplified but formal ones. laug (talk) 13:50, 5 September 2009 (UTC)

I've changed the names to 'everyday', 'formal' and 'Suzhou'. 'Formal' for the ones used on bank notes etc., 'everyday' for the ones commonly used and 'Suzhou' as it's what Wikipedia uses for Suzhou numerals. It's still far from perfect: it's missing the alternate forms for 〡,〢and 〣 and names such as 两 and 幺. These could be added below, though much of this can be found on articles linked from here, which is perhaps better as it can be explained properly there.
It's not clear why there are two tables either, as they have a lot of overlap, with the second one mostly containing the first one (and where it doesn't it could be added). I would merge them except it uses fonts I've not got. JohnBlackburne (talk) 12:06, 2 November 2009 (UTC)
Are the "Formal" numerals really numbers, or are they the Chinese equivalent of the name of the number rather than the number itself, e.g. one as opposed to 1 ? (talk) 18:57, 3 December 2009 (UTC)
Formal numbers are used on bank notes, on cheques and other important/legal documents to prevent forgery. The 'everyday' numbers include some like 一,二 that could easily be modified into other numbers. They represent the same thing otherwise. See Chinese numerals for more information. JohnBlackburne (talk) 19:42, 3 December 2009 (UTC)

Base 4[edit]

Could be nice to correlate the "4: quaternary" section of this article with the Quaternary_numeral_system#Occurrence_in_human_languages article. AnonMoos (talk) 09:43, 14 January 2010 (UTC)


What about the grammatical class of numbers? They're treated as a special class of words in the Indo-European grammar system, but they're either regarded as adjectives with special derivations, f.ex. Latin unus/una/unum, or as unflexing (?) particles (?), f.ex. quattuor. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 13:40, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

Yes, please someone answer this question! A detailed explanation of how numbers are act and how they are regarded within language would be very useful. BigSteve (talk) 16:28, 28 January 2012 (UTC)

There are only nine parts of speech in English: eight, if you refuse to acknowledge determiners or think interjections are too irrelevant to bother with. So, what is this about numerals being a part of speech unto themselves? Numerals in English are at best a sub-class of determiners. I can see the reference, but I humbly disagree with that authority.

@Rursus: quater is an adverb, thus it's a particle (at least in the broader sense of the term). "uninflectable" (stupid term, but that's English...) isn't needed here as all adverbs as well as particles are uninflectable. quattuor instead is an uninflectable cardinal numeral. One might view cardinal numerals as a sub-class of adjectives, but one might also view numerals as an own part of speech. I doubt that cardinal numerals are viewed as particles, even in case of undeclinable cardinal numerals, but maybe some view them as particles.
@unsigned comment: That's not correct. 1. One can get nine parts of speech even when one doesn't accept determiners: substantive, adjective, pronoun, article, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection. Also one could add participle (at least in some European languages this was regarded a part of speech), so one could get 10 parts without determiners and numerals. 2. When one doesn't accept determiners, then numerals can't be a sub-class of it. So they have to be something else, e.g. adjectives or an own class. As there were and are different authors, there were and are different views, and some put numerals as an own part of speech. 3. At least in some languges it's easy to justify that numerals are an own part of speech. E.g. in German cardinal numerals do not decline like regular adjectives. 4. There is also not just one definition of "numeral", but different definitions. Some call only cardinals and ordinals numerals, some also call other number words numerals. If numeral is used in a broader sense, then it is less likely that it is a (justifiable) part of speech. If numeral is used in a narrower sense, then it's more likely that it is a (justifiable) part of speech.
Thus it should be mentioned that there are different views and what these views are (cf. WP:NPOV).
- (talk) 20:50, 14 June 2015 (UTC)

Removed section "Mathematical types"[edit]

I removed the section "Mathematical types", because whoever wrote it doesn't understand the difference between classifications of mathematical objects, and differing schemes for the written representation of those objects. Binary, decimal, etc., are not different types of numbers, they are simply different schemes for representing a number symbolically. Imaginary, fractional, algebraic, etc., are actually distinct classifications of objects, as opposed to just different representations. And it was an uncited WP:SYNTHESIS anyway. --SJK (talk) 09:11, 9 March 2010 (UTC)

English and German are duodecimal?[edit]

Really? What's the reasoning behind this? cntrational (talk) 14:10, 31 January 2011 (UTC)

It says "Duodecimal numbers ... are a frequent occurrence" then lists some places they can be found. In English there's the names for numbers (special from 1 to 12), 'dozen', units in time, currency, length. Some are obsolete but they are still part of the language.
That's not duodecimal. No-one ever says 'two dozen three' for 27 or 'one gross and two' for 146. Deleted. — kwami (talk) 09:27, 26 June 2011 (UTC)

Banish number system?[edit]

In the "Basis of counting system" section, under "5: quinary", reference is made to "the banish system", with banish hyperlinked to the page for banishment, as in exile. I have no idea what "banish" is and the reference is to a book, what's up? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:10, 6 March 2011 (UTC)

I could not work out what it's referring to. Banish has always been a link to Banishment or Exile, and I could not find anything like a language or culture with that name with a wider search. I did find another quinary system while searching so I've replaced it with that.--JohnBlackburnewordsdeeds 21:33, 6 March 2011 (UTC)
The word was introduced in this revision. From the edit comment in the following revision, it appears that the editor in question is dyslexic. Perhaps he actually meant Danish (although Danish doesn't have any quinary aspects as far as I can determine). You'd have to check the source, though. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 15:40, 4 March 2012 (UTC)

"Not all peoples count" - too vague, and open to misinterpretation[edit]

I have replaced the sentence "Not all peoples count" with "Not all langauges have numeral systems", which is both more precise and more accurate. "Count" is too vague a term here; to say that "not all peoples count" could be read as meaning that not all peoples have a number sense, or that number sense is limited by vocabulary. This is an outdated form of linguistic determinism which has been entirely discredited by studies such as the one on Aboriginal children reported in "Aboriginal kids can count without numbers" (which, ironically, is cited as a source further down in our article). This article is about the vocabulary for naming numbers in various natural languages, which has little or no correlation with the number sense and arithmetic ability of individuals who speak those langauges. Gandalf61 (talk) 07:59, 28 June 2011 (UTC)

And the statement about Anindilyakwa (with the old spelling Enindhilyagwa) is wrong, the language has terms for numbers up to 20, but kids have mostly switched to English numbers. I'll take it out. Dougg (talk) 06:53, 5 October 2011 (UTC)

They aren't quite the same thing. Your language may have numerals, and yet people don't count with it. — kwami (talk) 07:58, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

What is a numeral?[edit]

I learned that 'numeral' is a part of speech, and that's what most of my sources say. That is, if it's a noun or adjective, it's not a numeral. We give a list of all sorts of words from other parts of speech in our 'Types of numerals' section, ref'ing SIL. Do you think maybe SIL dumbed it down a bit, because for their purposes it doesn't really matter, like calling any attributive an 'adjective'?

Do we have a rigorous definition of 'numeral'? It would have to be language-specific, of course, but we could give examples. — kwami (talk) 08:01, 2 March 2012 (UTC)

[discussion at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Linguistics#what is a 'numeral'?.]

Pavey (Structure of Language) terms the diff tween 'one' and 'seventy-seven' a word vs a phrase. I would normally go with 'compound' for the latter: should we change to Pavey's terminology? — kwami (talk) 20:17, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

The parts of speech in English are Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Pronouns, Conjunctions, Prepositions, interjections and more recently, determiners. Where is this notion of numerals as a part of speech coming from? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Tumpalion (talkcontribs) 06:59, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

Numerals are NOT a Part of Speech[edit]

I'm baffled. Whence comes this idea of numerals as a part of speech??? Seriously! Please direct me to any references that list numerals as a word class in the English language. Expressions such as "class of words" or "functional class" etc. should not be summarily interpreted as "part of speech".

There are nine clearly defined parts of speech in the English language (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, interjections and, most recently, determiners). To allude that numerals are a "part of speech" unto themselves simply because a few authors refer to them as a "class" is beyond presumptuous!

Nonetheless, I do not claim to always be right so I would highly appreciate it if someone would kindly point me in the direction of any authorities that have enthroned numerals as one of the parts of speech. I might yet be enlightened! Tumpalion (talk) 12:12, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

The examples in the intro were bad, since one was a noun and another an adjective, and the ref (which we don't need in the lead anyway) was confused as to what an "adjective" is. ("Six" is not an adjective: otherwise we wouldn't say "I saw six of them" etc.) What the ref calls "numerals" are the class of words which enumerate. But within that class there are words which are neither noun nor adjective. They replace the article, for example. Many languages have a separate part of speech like this. — kwami (talk) 19:00, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

This is the dispute I am presenting: The term "Parts of Speech" is specific to the nine lexical classes (listed above) to which numerals do not belong. I agree that numerals are a class of words but they are NOT one of the nine parts of speech in the English language. Incidentally, numerals are classified by many authorities under determiners as definite quantifiers! Needless to say, I subscribe to that opinion.
Wikipedia is about preserving truth and knowledge and "tag it if you need to" is neither a logical argument nor a reasonable response from one interested in intellectual discourse. I will no longer try to correct your error but I dare you to show me one single authority that defines numerals as a part of speech. Tumpalion (talk) 20:29, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

There are not nine parts of speech. There is an indefinite number, depending on the language. English "adverbs", for example, are not a coherent part of speech, but a catch-all term for words that don't fit elsewhere. Determiners are a class of words (rather like adverbs), not a part of speech either, unless you define them quite narrowly.
As I've said, my books are packed away. But this is covered in the lit on typological universals, where you need a way of determining whether s.t. is a noun or verb cross-linguistically. — kwami (talk) 21:52, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

I understand the need to explain things cross-linguistically but care must be taken to avoid blanket statements that might not apply in all cases. Many articles on Wiki address differences and similarities across languages without making erroneous sweeping statements.
Numerals are not considered a "part of speech" in English (I cannot speak for other languages) and the fact that this is false in English makes the sweeping statement false cross-linguistically.
In English, there are nine "parts of speech". This term is not synonymous with "class of words" of which there are myriad. The core debate as to the legitimacy of English determiners as a part of speech ended in the early 90s but that is not the point at all here. The way you insist on phrasing this introduction is unforgivably misleading and permit me to say that for all my effort in trying to discuss this with you, the inconvenience of locating your "books" is hardly a reason to refuse an informed review this claim.
Anyway, too much fuss over a minor thing. This thread bears witness to the question at hand. Tumpalion (talk) 03:47, 3 March 2013 (UTC)

Yes, numerals might be counted as determiners if that is taken as a part of speech. Perhaps numeral as a part of speech dates from the days before determiners were generally accepted as such. But we still had the problem that not all of the examples we had of "numerals" were determiners. We might present both theoretical POVs. — kwami (talk) 06:18, 3 March 2013 (UTC)

I must commend you for your willingness to review the issue. Thank you.
As far as the concept of numerals as determiners goes in the English language, I can share a few observations: Determiners generally qualify the relation a noun has to the context of any construction. Quantifiers are the sub-class/group/type of determiners that qualify the numerical or quantitative relation the noun in question has within the construction.
So, under quantifiers, we have definite quantifiers which may be words (two, thirty, ninety, etc.) or phrases (five-and-a-half, ninety-three, etc.) and indefinite quantifiers which may be single words (many, some, few, etc.) or phrases (a number of, a lot of, etc.)
As such, numerals function as definite quantifiers, a sub-group of determiners but ONLY when expressed as cardinals (1, 23, 45, etc.).
I hope this is at least somewhat useful. Tumpalion (talk) 08:24, 3 March 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Tumpalion (talkcontribs) 08:16, 3 March 2013 (UTC)

The section on larger numerals doesn't really apply to Japanese[edit]

Here's the line I'm referring to: "East Asia, the higher units are hundred, thousand, myriad 104, and powers of myriad". In Japanese unlike English ten, hundred, and thousand are all treated the same. There is no "thirty" instead "three ten" is used, and saying "hundred cars (百台の車, 台 is the counter for cars)" is OK, where the article explained that it is separate in English because that can't be done. Generally the same is used for ten, hundred, and thousand, but not myriad, where "one myriad (一万)" must be used if counting something IE "one myriad grains of sand (一万粒の砂)". I'm not sure how it works in Chinese or other Asian languages, but it is probably similar. I don't know how that should be reworded if Japanese is different, but hundred and thousand are not is the same class as myriad (man) or oku, chou, and so on (while the article seems to be saying that they are. (talk) 08:41, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

I don't think it's saying that these units all behave in exactly the same way, just that these are what the units are. I.e. in English we have (commonly used) basic words for 10, 100, 1000 and then powers of 1000, whereas in the Asian languages the basic words are [...] and then powers of 10,000. There may of course be slight differences in the way that numbers are built up from these basic words, both within and between languages. W. P. Uzer (talk) 09:06, 21 April 2014 (UTC)

Germanic vs. Romance languages[edit]

Is there a reason why Romance languages such as French have "non-composite" numerals for up to 16 (seize) - 17 (dix-sept) being "composite", while Germanic languages only go up to 12 (twelve, zwölf) with the non-composite ones, vs. 13 (thir-teen, drei-zehn)? I can see the connection with a duodecimal system for Germanic languages, but is there any reference to a hexadecimal system in Romance? Dsamuelis (talk) 19:48, 15 June 2016 (UTC)

Improvement needed[edit]


  • "a numeral is a member of a word class (or a subclass of determiners) designating numbers, such as the English word 'two' and the compound 'seventy-seven'."
  • "Various other number words are derived from numerals, but are not themselves numerals. Examples are ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.; from 'third' up, these are also used for fractions), multiplicative adverbs (once, twice, and thrice), multipliers (single, double, and triple), and distributive numbers (singly, doubly, and triply)."


  • The term "ordinal numeral" does exists, e.g. at [] it is: "ordinal number [..] Also called ordinal numeral. any of the numbers that express degree, quality, or position in a series, as first, second, and third". Thus: ordinals are - at least for some - also numerals. So the second quote is wrong or not neutral. Other numeral terms do also exists, e.g. "distributive numeral".
  • There might be other numeral terms, and some might refer to adverbs or substantives which aren't "determiners", e.g. "iterative numeral" might refer to some adverbs and "collective numeral" might refer to some substantives (like the German terms "Iterativum" and "Collectivum", see []). So the first quote (... determiners ...) might be wrong too.
  • Other numeral words aren't always (linguistically) derived from cardinal numeral words, so the part "Various other number words are derived from numerals" is wrong or misleading.

- (talk) 19:57, 12 June 2015 (UTC)