Grammatical number

In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions (such as "one", "two", or "three or more").[2] English and other languages present number categories of singular or plural, both of which are cited by using the hash sign (#) or by the numero signs "No." and "Nos." respectively. Some languages also have a dual, trial, and paucal number or other arrangements.

The count distinctions typically, but not always, correspond to the actual count of the referents of the marked noun or pronoun.

The word "number" is also used in linguistics to describe the distinction between certain grammatical aspects that indicate the number of times an event occurs, such as the semelfactive aspect, the iterative aspect, etc. For that use of the term, see "Grammatical aspect".


Most languages of the world have formal means to express differences of number. One widespread distinction, found in English and many other languages, involves a simple two-way number contrast between singular and plural (car/cars, child/children, etc.). Discussion of other more elaborate systems of number appears below.

Grammatical number is a morphological category characterized by the expression of quantity through inflection or agreement. As an example, consider the English sentences below:

That apple on the table is fresh.
Those two apples on the table are fresh.

The number of apples is marked on the noun—"apple" singular number (one item) vs. "apples" plural number (more than one item)—on the demonstrative, "that/those", and on the verb, "is/are". In the second sentence, all this information is redundant, since quantity is already indicated by the numeral "two".

A language has grammatical number when its nouns are subdivided into morphological classes according to the quantity they express, such that:

  1. Every noun belongs to a unique number class (nouns are partitioned into disjoint classes by number).
  2. Noun modifiers (such as adjectives) and verbs may also have different forms for each number class and be inflected to match the number of the nouns to which they refer (number is an agreement category).

This is partly the case in English: every noun is either singular or plural (a few forms, such as "fish", can be either, according to context), and at least some modifiers of nouns—namely the demonstratives, the personal pronouns, the articles, and verbs—are inflected to agree with the number of the nouns to which they refer: "this car" and "these cars" are correct, while "*this cars" or "*these car" are ungrammatical and, therefore, incorrect. However adjectives are not inflected, and most verb forms do not distinguish between singular and plural. Only count nouns can be freely used in the singular and in the plural. Mass nouns, like "milk", "silverware", and "wisdom", are normally used in only the singular form.[3] (In some cases, a normally mass noun X may be used as a count noun to collect several distinct kinds of X into an enumerable group; for example, a cheesemaker might speak of goat, sheep, and cow milk as milks.) Many languages distinguish between count nouns and mass nouns.

Not all languages have number as a grammatical category. In those that do not, quantity must be expressed either directly, with numerals, or indirectly, through optional quantifiers. However, many of these languages compensate for the lack of grammatical number with an extensive system of measure words.

There is a hierarchy among number categories: no language distinguishes a trial (indicating the number 3) unless it has a dual, and no language has a dual without a plural.[4]

Geographical distribution

Obligatory plural marking of all nouns is found throughout western and northern Eurasia and in most parts of Africa. The rest of the world presents a heterogeneous picture. Optional plural marking is particularly common in Southeast and East Asia and Australian languages, and complete lack of plural marking is particularly found in New Guinea and Australian languages. In addition to the areal correlations, there also seems to be at least one correlation with morphological typology: isolating languages appear to favor no or non-obligatory plural marking. This can be seen particularly in Africa, where optionality or absence of plural marking is found particularly in the isolating languages of West Africa.[5][6]

Number in specific languages


English is typical of most world languages, in distinguishing only between singular and plural number. The plural form of a noun is usually created by adding the suffix -(e)s. The pronouns have irregular plurals, as in "I" versus "we", because they are ancient and frequently used words going back to when English had a well developed system of declension. English verbs distinguish singular from plural number in the third person present tense ("He goes" versus "They go"). English treats zero with the plural number. Old English did contain dual grammatical numbers.


The Finnish language has a plural form of almost every noun case (except the comitative, which is formally only plural).

  • talo – house
  • talot – houses
  • taloissa – in the houses

However, when a number is used, or a word signifying a number (monta- many), the singular version of the partitive case is used.

  • kolme taloa – three houses

and where no specific number is mentioned, the plural version of the partitive case is used

  • taloja

and in the possessive (genitive)

  • talon ovi (the house's door)
  • talojen ovet (the houses' doors)


In modern Romance languages, nouns, adjectives and articles are declined according to number (singular or plural only). Verbs are conjugated for number as well as person. French treats zero as using the singular number, not the plural.

In its written form, French declines nouns for number (singular or plural). In speech, however, the majority of nouns (and adjectives) are not declined for number. The typical plural suffix, -s or -es, is silent, no longer indicating a change in pronunciation. Spoken number marking on the noun appears when liaison occurs.

  • some plurals do differ from the singular in pronunciation; for example, masculine singulars in -al [al] sometimes form masculine plurals in -aux [o].
  • Proper nouns are not pluralized, even in writing. (Les voitures, but Les Peugeot 404)

Normally, the article or determiner is the primary indicator of number.


In Modern Hebrew, a Semitic language, most nouns have only singular and plural forms, such as ספר /ˈsefeʁ/ "book" and ספרים /sfaˈʁim/ "books", but some have distinct dual forms using a distinct dual suffix (largely nouns pertaining to numbers or time, such as אלפיים /alˈpajim/ "two thousand" and שבועיים /ʃvuˈajim/ "two weeks"), some use this dual suffix for their regular plurals (largely body parts that tend to come in pairs, such as עיניים /eiˈnajim/ "eyes", as well as some that do not, such as שיניים /ʃiˈnajim/ "teeth"), and some are inherently dual (such as מכנסיים /mixnaˈsajim/ "pants" and אופניים /ofaˈnajim/ "bicycle"). Adjectives, verbs, and pronouns agree with their subjects' or antecedents' numbers, but only have a two-way distinction between singular and plural; dual nouns entail plural adjectives, verbs, and pronouns.


Modern Russian has a singular vs plural number system, but the declension of noun phrases containing numeral expressions follows complex rules. For example, "У меня есть одна книга/три книги/пять книг" ("I have one book-nom. sing./three book-gen. sing./five book-gen. plur."). See Dual number: Slavic languages for a discussion of number phrases in Russian and other Slavic languages.

The numeral "one" also has a plural form, used with pluralia tantum: одни джинсы/одни часы "one pair of jeans, one clock".[7] The same form is used with countable nouns in meaning "only": Кругом одни идиоты "There are only idiots around".


Swedish inflects nouns in singular and plural. The plural of the noun is usually obtained by adding a suffix, according to the noun's declension. The suffixes are as follows: -or in the 1st declension (e.g. flicka - flickor), -ar in the 2nd (e.g. bil - bilar), -er in the 3rd (e.g. katt - katter), -n in the 4th (e.g. äpple - äpplen) and no inflectional suffix is added for the nouns in the 5th declension (e.g. bord - bord). Verbs in Swedish do not distinguish singular from plural number.


Tokelau is an Austronesian Island consisting of three atolls. The Tokelauan language has three types of personal pronouns - 1st person, 2nd person inclusive, 2nd person exclusive, and 3rd person exclusive. The language has unique ways to address multiple people in one conversation. For example, the generic greeting for ‘Hello’ is Tālofa or Mālō. To greet one person, ‘greetings to you’ would be the same as the common greeting. To address two people, Tālofa nī/Mālō nī Fakatālofa atu kia te koulua; koulua is the dual third person term. To address three or more people, Fakatālofa atu kia te koutou; koutou is the plural third person term.[8]


Wuvulu is an Austronesian Island located in the Manus Province of Papua New Guinea. The languages numbering system is multiplicative construction, where each number is based on multiplying pre-existing numbers smaller than five. Wuvulu is most similar to most Oceanic languages, and their numbering system is representative of some systems found in the Marshall Islands. For examples, the number two in Wuvulu is roa and the number four in both Proto-Oceanic language and Wuvulu is fa. Therefore, the number eight in Wuvulu the construction of two and four, resulting in fainaroa, translating into "four multiply two". Moreover, the Wuvulu language has different numerical systems for animate objects and inanimate objects. When referencing an inanimate object, the number seven is oloompalo; however, if it is an animate object, the word changes to oloromea.[9] The structure of a noun phrase looks like " NP=(ART/DEMONSTRATIVE+)(NUMBER/QUANTIFIER+)(PREMODIFIERS+)NOUN(+MODIFER.) As we can see, the number or quantifier appears in the middle of the noun phrase.[10]


ʔi=na-tafi-ʔa oloroa wa

3SG=REAL-carve-TR six canoe

He carved six canoes.


The Mortlockese language of the Mortlock Islands uses a base 10 counting system. Pronouns, nouns and demonstratives are used exclusively in the singular and plural forms through the use of classifiers, suffixes and prefixes.[11] There are no other dual or trial grammatical forms in the Mortlockese language.[12] Different forms that can be used in the language include first person singular and plural words, second person singular words like “umwi,” second person plural words like “aumi” used to refer to an outside group, and third person plural words.[13]

Types of number

Singular versus plural

In most languages with grammatical number, nouns, and sometimes other parts of speech, have two forms, the singular, for one instance of a concept, and the plural, for more than one instance. Usually, the singular is the unmarked form of a word, and the plural is obtained by inflecting the singular. This is the case in English: car/cars, box/boxes, man/men. There may be exceptional nouns whose plural is identical to the singular: one sheep/two sheep (which is not the same as nouns that have only one number).

Singulative versus collective

Some languages differentiate between an unmarked form, the collective, which is indifferent in respect to number, and a marked form for single entities, called the singulative in this context. For example, in Welsh, moch ("pigs") is a basic form, whereas a suffix is added to form mochyn ("pig"). It is the collective form which is more basic, and it 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 like "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 a singulative number.[14]

In other languages, singulatives can be regularly formed from collective nouns; e.g. Standard Arabic حجر ḥajar "stone" → حجرة ḥajara "(individual) stone", بقر baqar "cattle" → بقرة baqara "(single) cow".[15] In Russian, the suffix for forming singulative form is -ин- -in-; e.g. град grad "hail" → градина gradina "hailstone", лёд lyod "ice" → льдина l'dina "block of ice". In both Russian and Arabic, the singulative form always takes on the feminine gender. In Dutch, singulative forms of collective nouns are occasionally made by diminutives: snoep "sweets, candy" → snoepje "sweet, piece of candy". These singulatives can be pluralised like most other nouns: snoepjes "several sweets, pieces of candy".


The distinction between a "singular" number (one) and a "plural" number (more than one) found in English is not the only possible classification. Another one is "singular" (one), "dual" (two) and "plural" (more than two). Dual number existed in Proto-Indo-European, persisted in many ancient Indo-European languages that descended from it—Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Gothic, Old Norse, and Old English for example—and can still be found in a few modern Indo-European languages such as Slovene.[16] Many more modern Indo-European languages show residual traces of the dual, as in the English distinctions both vs. all, either vs. any, neither vs. none, and so on. (Note, however, that Norwegian både, for example, though cognate with English both, can be used with more than two things, as in X sparer både tid, penger, og arbeid, literally "X saves both time, money, and labour".)

Many Semitic languages also have dual number. For instance, in Arabic all nouns can have singular, plural, or dual forms. For non-broken plurals, masculine plural nouns end with ون -ūn and feminine plural nouns end with ات -āt, whilst ان -ān, is added to the end of a noun to indicate that it is dual (even among nouns that have broken plurals).

Pronouns in Polynesian languages such as Tahitian exhibit the singular, dual, and plural numbers.

The dual may be restricted to certain morphological categories. For example, in North Saami, in possessive forms the possessor has three numbers (singular, dual, plural) whereas the noun possessed only has two (singular, plural).


The trial number is a grammatical number referring to 'three items', in contrast to 'singular' (one item), 'dual' (two items), and 'plural' (four or more items). Several Austronesian languages such as Tolomako, Lihir, and Manam; the Kiwaian languages; and the Austronesian-influenced creole languages Bislama and Tok Pisin have the trial number in their pronouns. No language has been documented to have trial number in its nouns.


The quadral number, if it existed, would denote four items together, as trial does three. No known natural language has it, nor is there any proof that any natural language ever did. It was once thought to exist in the pronoun systems of Marshallese, spoken in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean,[17] and in Sursurunga,[18] in Tangga,[19][20] and in several other Austronesian languages. While not all of these languages are adequately attested, it turns out that Sursurunga instead has both a "lesser paucal" (labeled "trial", but in fact referring to small groups, with typically three or four members) and a "greater paucal" (misnamed the "quadral", as it has a minimum of four, e.g. a pair of dyadic kin terms)—the distinction is along the lines of "a few" vs. "several";—and that what Marshallese actually has is a trial and a paucal.[21] None of them has a "quadral"; in at least two cases the field workers who originally suggested they did have a "quadral" were also the first to publish a peer-reviewed article contradicting that suggestion.


Paucal number, for a few (as opposed to many) instances of the referent (e.g. in Hopi, Warlpiri, some Oceanic languages including Fijian,[22] Motuna,[23] Serbo-Croatian,[24] and in Arabic for some nouns). Paucal number has also been documented in some Cushitic languages of Ethiopia, including Baiso, which marks singular, paucal, plural.[25] When paucal number is used in Arabic, it generally refers to ten or fewer instances.

Of the Indo-European languages, Northern Kurdish or Kurmanji is one of the few known languages with paucal number. For instance: "car-IN-an" (sometimes), cf. "gelek car-an" (many times). In Russian, the genitive singular is also applied to three or four items (2, 3, 4 ка́мня – stones, gen. sg.; but 5...20 камне́й - stones, gen. pl.), making it effectively paucal (cf. э́тот ка́мень - this stone, nom. sg.; э́ти ка́мни - these stones, nom. pl.). Polish functions similarly: 'one dog' is jeden pies', while (2, 3, 4 psy - dogs, pl.; but 5+ psów - dogs, gen. pl.). Slovene has one more distinction. With its use of dual ('one dog' is en pes, 'two dogs' is dva psa), paucal is only used for counting 3 and 4 (3, 4 psi - dogs, pl.; but 5+ psov - dogs,

Distributive plural

Distributive plural number, for many instances viewed as independent individuals (for example, in Navajo).

Formal expression of number

Synthetic languages typically distinguish grammatical number by inflection. (Analytic languages, such as Chinese, often do not mark grammatical number.) Some languages have no marker for the plural in certain cases, e.g. Swedish hus – "house, houses" (but huset – "the house", husen – "the houses"). In most languages, the singular is formally unmarked, whereas the plural is marked in some way. Other languages, most notably the Bantu languages, mark both the singular and the plural, for instance Swahili (see example below). The third logical possibility, found in only a few languages such as Welsh and Sinhala, is an unmarked plural contrasting with marked singular. Below are some examples of number affixes for nouns (where the inflecting morphemes are underlined):

  • Affixation (by adding or removing prefixes, suffixes, infixes, or circumfixes):
    • Estonian: puu "tree, wood" (singular) – puud "the trees, woods" (nominative plural), or kolm puud "three trees" (partitive singular)
    • Finnish: lehmä "cow, the cow" (singular) – lehmät "the cows" (nominative plural)
    • Turkish: dağ "the mountain" (singular) - dağlar "mountains" (plural)
    • Slovene: lipa "linden" (singular) – lipi "linden" (dual) – lipe "linden" (paucal) – lip "linden" (plural)
    • Sanskrit: पुरुषस् puruṣas "man" (singular) – पुरुषौ puruṣau "two men" (dual) – पुरुषास् puruṣās "men" (plural)
    • Sinhala: මලක් malak "flower" (singular) - මල් mal "flowers" (plural)
    • Swahili: mtoto "child" (singular) – watoto "children" (plural)
    • Ganda: omusajja "man" (singular) – abasajja "men" (plural)
    • Georgian: კაცი k'aci "man" (singular) – კაცები k'acebi "men" (where -i is the nominative case marker)
    • Welsh: plant "children" (collective) – plentyn "child" (singulative)
  • Simulfix (through various kinds of internal sound alternations):
    • Arabic: كِتَاب kitāb "book" (singular) – كُتُب kutub "books" (plural)
  • Apophony (alternating between different vowels):
    • Dinka: kat "frame" – kɛt "frames"
    • English: footfeet
    • German: Mutter "mother" – Mütter "mothers"
    • Welsh: bachgen "boy" – bechgyn "boys" (See affection)
  • Reduplication (through doubling):
    • Indonesian: orang "person" (singular) – orang-orang "people" (plural); BUT dua orang "two people" and banyak orang "many people" (reduplication is not done when the context is clear and when the plurality is not emphasized)
    • Pipil: kumit "pot" (singular) – kuj-kumit "pots" (plural); similar to Indonesian, reduplication is omitted when plurality is marked elsewhere or not emphasized.
    • Somali: buug "book" (singular) – buug-ag "books" (plural)
  • Suppletion (the use of the one word as the inflected form of another word):
  • Tonality (by changing a drag tone to a push tone)
    • Limburgish: daãg "day" (singular) – daàg "days" (plural)
    • Ancient Greek: γλῶσσα glôssa "tongue" (singular) - γλώσσα glǒssa "two tongues" (dual)

Elements marking number may appear on nouns and pronouns in dependent-marking languages or on verbs and adjectives in head-marking languages.

Western Apache
Paul is teaching the cowboy. Paul idilohí yiłch’ígó’aah.
Paul is teaching the cowboys. Paul idilohí yiłch’ídagó’aah.

In the English sentence above, the plural suffix -s is added to the noun cowboy. In the equivalent in Western Apache, a head-marking language, a plural infix da- is added to the verb yiłch’ígó’aah "he is teaching him", resulting in yiłch’ídagó’aah "he is teaching them" while noun idilohí "cowboy" is unmarked for number.

Number particles

Plurality is sometimes marked by a specialized number particle (or number word). This is frequent in Australian and Austronesian languages. An example from Tagalog is the word mga [mɐˈŋa]: compare bahay "house" with mga bahay "houses". In Kapampangan, certain nouns optionally denote plurality by secondary stress: ing laláki "man" and ing babái "woman" become ding láláki "men" and ding bábái "women".

Classifiers with number morphology

In Sanskrit and some other languages, number and case are fused category and there is concord for number between a noun and its predicator. Some languages however (for example, Assamese) lack this feature.

Languages that show number inflection for a large enough corpus of nouns or allow them to combine directly with singular and plural numerals can be described as non-classifier languages. On the other hand, there are languages that obligatorily require a counter word or the so-called classifier for all nouns. For example, the category of number in Assamese is fused with the category of classifier, which always carries a definite/indefinite reading. The singularity or plurality of the noun is determined by the addition of the classifier suffix either to the noun or to the numeral. Number system in Assamese is either realized as numeral or as nominal inflection, but not both. Numerals [ek] 'one' and [dui] 'two', can be realized as both free morpheme and clitics. When used with classifiers, these two numerals are cliticised to the classifiers.

Pingelapese is a Micronesian language spoken on the Pingelap atoll and on two of the eastern Caroline Islands, called the high island of Pohnpei. In Pingelapese, the meaning, use, or shape of an object can be expressed through the use of numerical classifiers. These classifiers combine and noun and a number that together can give more details about the object. There are at least five sets of numerical classifiers in Pingelapese. Each classifier has a numeral part and a classifier part that corresponds to the noun it is describing. The classifier follows the noun in a phrase. There is a separate set of numerical classifiers that is used when the object is not specified. Examples of this is the names of the days of the week.[27]

Obligatoriness of number marking

In many languages, such as English, number is obligatorily expressed in every grammatical context. Some limit number expression to certain classes of nouns, such as animates or referentially prominent nouns (as with proximate forms in most Algonquian languages, opposed to referentially less prominent obviative forms). In others, such as Chinese and Japanese, number marking is not consistently applied to most nouns unless a distinction is needed or already present.

A very common situation is for plural number to not be marked if there is any other overt indication of number, as for example in Hungarian: virág "flower"; virágok "flowers"; hat virág "six flowers".


Many languages, such as Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Malay, have optional number marking. In such cases, an unmarked noun is neither singular nor plural, but rather ambiguous as to number. This is called transnumeral or sometimes general number, abbreviated TRN. Many such languages have optional number marking, which tends to be used for definite and highly animate referents, most notably first-person pronouns.

Inverse number

The languages of the Tanoan family have three numbers – singular, dual, and plural – and exhibit an unusual system of marking number, called inverse number (or number toggling). In this scheme, every countable noun has what might be called its "inherent" or "expected" numbers, and is unmarked for these. When a noun appears in an "inverse" (atypical) number, it is inflected to mark this. For example, in Jemez, where nouns take the ending -sh to denote an inverse number, there are four noun classes which inflect for number as follows:

class description singular dual plural
I animate nouns - -sh -sh
II some inanimate nouns -sh -sh -
III other inanimate nouns - -sh -
IV mass (non-countable) nouns (n/a) (n/a) (n/a)

As can be seen, class-I nouns are inherently singular, class-II nouns are inherently plural, class-III nouns are inherently singular or plural. Class-IV nouns cannot be counted and are never marked with -sh.*[28]

A similar system is seen in Kiowa (Kiowa is distantly related to Tanoan languages like Jemez):

class singular dual plural
I - - -ɡɔ
II -ɡɔ - -
III -ɡɔ - -ɡɔ
IV (n/a) (n/a) (n/a)

(See also Taos language: Number inflection for a description of inverse number suffixes in another Tanoan language.)

Number agreement


In many languages, verbs are conjugated according to number. Using French as an example, one says je vois (I see), but nous voyons (we see). The verb voir (to see) changes from vois in the first person singular to voyons in the plural. In everyday English, this often happens in the third person (she sees, they see), but not in other grammatical persons, except with the verb to be.

Adjectives and determiners

Adjectives often agree with the number of the noun they modify. For example, in French, one says un grand arbre [œ̃ ɡʁɑ̃t aʁbʁ] "a tall tree", but deux grands arbres [dø ɡʁɑ̃ zaʁbʁ] "two tall trees". The singular adjective grand becomes grands in the plural, unlike English "tall", which remains unchanged.

Other determiners may agree with number. In English, the demonstratives "this", "that" change to "these", "those" in the plural, and the indefinite article "a", "an" is either omitted or changes to "some". In French and German, the definite articles have gender distinctions in the singular but not the plural. In Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, both definite and indefinite articles are inflected for gender and number, e.g. Portuguese o, a "the" (singular, masc./fem.), os, as "the" (plural, masc./fem.); um, uma "a(n)" (singular, masc./fem.), uns, umas "some" (plural, masc./fem.), dois, duas "two" (plural, masc./fem.),

In the Finnish sentence t ovat pimei "Nights are dark", each word referring to the plural noun yöt "nights" ("night" = ) is pluralized (night-PL is-PL dark-PL-partitive).


Sometimes, grammatical number will not represent the actual quantity. For example, in Ancient Greek neuter plurals took a singular verb.[29] The plural form of a pronoun may also be applied to a single individual as a sign of importance, respect or generality, as in the pluralis majestatis, the T-V distinction, and the generic "you", found in many languages, or, in English, when using the singular "they" for gender-neutrality.

In Arabic, the plural of a non-human noun (one that refers to an animal or to an inanimate entity regardless of whether the noun is grammatically masculine or feminine in the singular) is treated as feminine singular—this is called the inanimate plural. For example:

رجل جميل (rajul jamīl) 'beautiful/handsome man': rajul (man) is masculine singular, so it takes the masculine singular adjective jamīl.
بيت جميل (bayt jamīl) 'beautiful house': bayt (house) is masculine singular, so it takes the masculine singular jamīl.
كلب جميل (kalb jamīl) 'beautiful dog': kalb (dog) is masculine singular, so it takes the masculine singular jamīl.
بنت جميلة (bint jamīlah) 'beautiful girl': bint is feminine singular, so it takes the feminine singular jamīlah.
سيارة جميلة (sayyārah jamīlah) 'beautiful car': sayyārah is feminine singular, so it takes the feminine singular jamīlah.
رجال جميلون (rijāl jamīlūn) 'beautiful/handsome men': rijāl (men) is masculine plural, so it takes the masculine plural jamīlūn.
بنات جميلات (banāt jamīlāt) 'beautiful girls': banāt is feminine plural, so it takes the feminine plural jamīlāt.


بيوت جميلة (buyūt jamīlah) 'beautiful houses': buyūt (houses) is non-human plural, and so takes the inanimate plural (feminine singular) jamīlah.
سيارات جميلة (sayyārāt jamīlah) 'beautiful cars': sayyārāt is non-human plural, and so takes the inanimate plural jamīlah.
كلاب جميلة (kilāb jamīlah) 'beautiful dogs': kilāb is non-human plural, and so takes the inanimate plural jamīlah.

Collective nouns

A collective noun is a word that designates a group of objects or beings regarded as a whole, such as "flock", "team", or "corporation". Although many languages treat collective nouns as singular, in others they may be interpreted as plural. In British English, phrases such as the committee are meeting are common (the so-called agreement in sensu "in meaning"; with the meaning of a noun, rather than with its form, see constructio ad sensum). The use of this type of construction varies with dialect and level of formality.

In some cases, the number marking on a verb with a collective subject may express the degree of collectivity of action:

  • The committee are discussing the matter (the individual members are discussing the matter), but the committee has decided on the matter (the committee has acted as an indivisible body).
  • The crowd is tearing down the fences (a crowd is doing something as a unit), but the crowd are cheering wildly (many individual members of the crowd are doing the same thing independently of each other).

Semantic vs. grammatical number

All languages are able to specify the quantity of referents. They may do so by lexical means with words such as English a few, some, one, two, five hundred. However, not every language has a grammatical category of number. Grammatical number is expressed by morphological or syntactic means. That is, it is indicated by certain grammatical elements, such as through affixes or number words. Grammatical number may be thought of as the indication of semantic number through grammar.

Languages that express quantity only by lexical means lack a grammatical category of number. For instance, in Khmer, neither nouns nor verbs carry any grammatical information concerning number: such information can only be conveyed by lexical items such as khlah 'some', pii-bey 'a few', and so on.[30]

Auxiliary languages

Auxiliary languages often have fairly simple systems of grammatical number. In one of the most common schemes (found, for example, in Interlingua and Ido), nouns and pronouns distinguish between singular and plural, but not other numbers, and adjectives and verbs do not display any number agreement. In Esperanto, however, adjectives must agree in both number and case with the nouns that they qualify.

See also


  1. ^ "Grammatical Features – Associativity".
  2. ^ "What is Number?", Dictionary of Linguistic Terms, SIL.
  3. ^ Nicolas, David (2008), "Mass nouns and plural logic" (PDF), Linguistics and Philosophy, 31 (2): 211–44, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1007/s10988-008-9033-2, archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-19.
  4. ^ Greenberg 1972.
  5. ^ Good, JC, Kwa noun (PDF), Buffalo
  6. ^ "34", Occurrence of Nominal Plurality, Wals
  7. ^ Lunt 1982, p. 204.
  8. ^ Hooper, Robin (1996). Tokelauan. Munched, Germany: Lincom Europa. p. 1, 3. ISBN 3-929075-41-5.
  9. ^ Harrod, James (2014). Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary (PDF). p. 73. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  10. ^ Hafford, James (2015). "Numbers/Quantifiers". Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary: 72.
  11. ^ Ward, William Theophilus Thomas (1955). A preliminary survey of the economic and social life of the Mortlock Islands people, Eastern Carolines, Trust Territory of Micronesia.
  12. ^ Odango, Emerson Lopez (May 2015). Afféú Fangani 'Join Together': A Morphophonemic Analysis of Possessive Suffix Paradigms and A Discourse-Based Ethnography of the Elicitation Session in Pakin Lukunosh Mortlockese (PDF). University of Hawaii at Manoa Dissertation.
  13. ^ University of Hawaii at Manoa Hamilton. "Narrative and identity construction in the Pacific Islands". Philadelphia, PA : John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2015.
  14. ^ "Define paucal | Dictionary and Thesaurus". Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  15. ^ "Define paucal | Dictionary and Thesaurus". Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  16. ^ Kordić 2001, pp. 63, 72–73.
  17. ^ Gregersen, Edgar A., "Language in Africa", p. 62. (Note that Marshallese is not a language spoken in Africa.)
  18. ^ Hutchisson, Don. 1986. Sursurunga pronouns and the special uses of quadral number. In: Wiesemann, Ursula (ed.) Pronominal Systems. (Continuum 5). Tübingen: Narr. 217-255.
  19. ^ Capell, Arthur, 1971. The Austronesian Languages of Australian New Guinea. In: Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Current Trends in Linguistics
  20. ^ 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:
  21. ^ Corbett 2000, pp. 25–30, 40, 46, 224, 317, 358.
  22. ^ Paucal in Oceanic (PDF) (article), NZ: Victoria, archived from the original (PDF) on December 3, 2013.
  23. ^ Onishi, Masayuki (2000), "Transitivity and valency-changing derivations in Motuna", in Dixon, RMW; Aikhenvald, Alexendra Y (eds.), Changing Valency: Case Studies in Transitivity, Cambridge University Press, p. 116.
  24. ^ Belić, Bojan (2008), "Minor Paucal in Serbian", in Zybatow, Gerhild; et al. (eds.), Formal Description of Slavic Languages: The Fifth Conference, Leipzig 2003, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, pp. 258–69.
  25. ^ Paucal documentation, UK: Surrey.
  26. ^ Kordić 2001, p. 64.
  27. ^ Hattori, Ryoko (2012). Preverbal Particles in Pingelapese. Ann Arbor. pp. 38–41. ISBN 9781267817211.
  28. ^ Sprott, Robert (1992), Jemez syntax (doctoral dissertation), US: University of Chicago
  29. ^ “Learn Ancient Greek: 11_Unit 2 Agreement Infinitives Questions”, video tutorial by Leonard Muellner and Belisi Gillespie at Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, published January 25, 2018; retrieved May 30, 2018
  30. ^ "Linguistic sketch", Khmer (article), UCLA Language Materials project (


  • Beard, R (1992), "Number", in Bright, W (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Linguistics.
  • Corbett, Greville (2000), Number, Textbooks in Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-64016-9, P240.8.C67.
  • Greenberg, Joseph H (1972), Numeral classifiers and substantival number: Problems in the genesis of a linguistic type, Working Papers on Language Universals, 9, Stanford University, pp. 1–39.
  • Kordić, Snježana (2001). "Die grammatische Kategorie des Numerus" [The grammatical category of number] (PDF). In Jachnow, Helmut; Norman, Boris; Suprun, Adam E (eds.). Quantität und Graduierung als kognitiv-semantische Kategorien [Quantities and gradations in cognitive‐semantic categories] (PDF). Slavistische Studienbücher, Neue Folge (in German). 12. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 62–75. ISBN 978-3-447-04408-0. OCLC 48560579. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 August 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  • Laycock, Henry (2005), "Mass nouns, Count nouns and Non-count nouns", Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Oxford: Elsevier.
  • ——— (2006), Words without Objects, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Lunt, Horace G (1982) [1968], Fundamentals of Russian (rev ed.), Columbus, OH: Slavica.
  • Merrifield, William (1959). "Classification of Kiowa nouns". International Journal of American Linguistics. 25 (4): 269–71. doi:10.1086/464544.
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999), The languages of native North America, Cambridge University Press, pp. 81–82, 444–45, ISBN 978-0-521-23228-9.
  • Nicolas, David (2008), "Mass nouns and plural logic" (PDF), Linguistics and Philosophy, 31 (2): 211–44, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1007/s10988-008-9033-2, archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-19.
  • Sprott, Robert (1992), Jemez syntax (doctoral dissertation), US: University of Chicago.
  • Sten, Holgar (1949), Le nombre grammatical [The Grammatical number], Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Copenhague (in French), 4, Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  • Watkins, Laurel J; McKenzie, Parker (1984), A grammar of Kiowa, Studies in the anthropology of North American Indians, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0-8032-4727-7.
  • Weigel, William F (1993), "Morphosyntactic toggles", Papers from the 29th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 29, Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, pp. 467–78.
  • Wiese, Heike (2003), Numbers, language, and the human mind, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-83182-6.
  • Wonderly, William L; Gibson, Lorna F.; Kirk, Paul L. (1954). "Number in Kiowa: Nouns, demonstratives, and adjectives". International Journal of American Linguistics. 20 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1086/464244. JSTOR 1263186.
  • Plural rules collection, Unicode.
  • "Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã" (PDF). Americas. SIL.

External links

British English

British English is the standard dialect of English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".When distinguished from American English, the term "British English" is sometimes used broadly as a synonym for the various varieties of English spoken in some member states of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Collective noun

In linguistics, a collective noun refers to a collection of things taken as a whole. Most collective nouns in everyday speech are mundane and not specific to just one kind, such as the word "group", which is applied to "people" in phrase "a group of people", but is also applied to "dogs" in the phrase "a group of dogs". Some collective nouns are specific to one kind, especially terms of venery, which identify specific groups of animals. For example, "pride" as a term of venery always refers to lions, never to dogs or cows. Other specific examples come from popular culture such as a group of owls, which is called a "parliament".Different forms of English handle verb agreement with collective count nouns differently. For example, users of British English generally accept that collective nouns take either singular or plural verb forms depending on context and the metonymic shift that it implies.

Count noun

In linguistics, a count noun (also countable noun) is a noun that can be modified by a numeral and that occurs in both singular and plural forms, and that co-occurs with quantificational determiners like every, each, several, etc. A mass noun has none of these properties, because it cannot be modified by a numeral, cannot occur in plural, and cannot co-occur with quantificational determiners.


In linguistics, definiteness is a semantic feature of noun phrases (NPs), distinguishing between referents/entities that are identifiable in a given context (definite noun phrases) and entities which are not (indefinite noun phrases).

There is considerable variation in the expression of definiteness across languages and some languages do not express it at all. For example, in English definiteness is usually marked by the selection of determiner. Certain determiners, such as a/an, many, any, either, and some typically mark an NP as indefinite. Others, including the, this, every, and both mark the NP as definite. In some other languages, the marker is a clitic that attaches phonologically to the noun (and often to modifying adjectives), e.g. the Hebrew definite article ha- or the Arabic definite article al-. In yet other languages, definiteness is indicated by affixes on the noun or on modifying adjectives, much like the expression of grammatical number and grammatical case. In these languages, the inflections indicating definiteness may be quite complex. In the Germanic languages and Balto-Slavic languages, for example (as still in modern German and Lithuanian), there are two paradigms for adjectives, one used in definite noun phrases and the other used in indefinite noun phrases. In some languages, e.g. Hungarian, definiteness is marked on the verb.

Dual (grammatical number)

Dual (abbreviated DU) is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it is interpreted as referring to precisely two of the entities (objects or persons) identified by the noun or pronoun acting as a single unit or in unison. Verbs can also have dual agreement forms in these languages.

The dual number existed in Proto-Indo-European, persisted in many of its descendants, such as Ancient Greek and Sanskrit, which have dual forms across nouns, verbs, and adjectives, Gothic, which used dual forms in pronouns and verbs, and Old English (Anglo-Saxon), which used dual forms in pronouns. It can still be found in a few modern Indo-European languages such as Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Slovenian, and Sorbian.

The majority of modern Indo-European languages, however, have lost dual through their development and only show residual traces of it. In all these languages, its function has been replaced by simple plural, as is evident in the English distinctions: both vs. all, either vs. any, neither vs. none, and so on. A commonly used sentence to exemplify dual in English is "Both go to the same school." where both refers to two people who had already been determined in the conversation.

Many Semitic languages also have dual number. For instance, in Arabic, ان‎ -ān, is added to the end of any noun to indicate that it is dual (regardless of how the plural is being formed).

It is also present in those Khoisan languages that have a rich inflectional morphology, particularly Khoe languages.

Generic you

In English grammar and in particular in casual English, generic you, impersonal you, or indefinite you is the use of the pronoun you to refer to an unspecified person, as opposed to its use as the second person pronoun.

Grammatical conjugation

In linguistics, conjugation () is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection (alteration of form according to rules of grammar). Verbs may inflect for grammatical categories such as person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, case, possession, definiteness, politeness, causativity, clusivity, interrogativity, transitivity, valency, polarity, telicity, volition, mirativity, evidentiality, animacy, associativity, pluractionality, and reciprocity. Verbs may also be affected by agreement, polypersonal agreement, incorporation, noun class, noun classifiers, and verb classifiers.Agglutinative and polysynthetic languages tend to have the most complex conjugations albeit some fusional languages such as Archi can also have extremely complex conjugation. Typically the principal parts are the root and/or several modifications of it (stems). All the different forms of the same verb constitute a lexeme, and the canonical form of the verb that is conventionally used to represent that lexeme (as seen in dictionary entries) is called a lemma.

The term conjugation is applied only to the inflection of verbs, and not of other parts of speech (inflection of nouns and adjectives is known as declension). Also it is often restricted to denoting the formation of finite forms of a verb – these may be referred to as conjugated forms, as opposed to non-finite forms, such as the infinitive or gerund, which tend not to be marked for most of the grammatical categories.

Conjugation is also the traditional name for a group of verbs that share a similar conjugation pattern in a particular language (a verb class). For example, Latin is said to have four conjugations of verbs. This means that any regular Latin verb can be conjugated in any person, number, tense, mood, and voice by knowing which of the four conjugation groups it belongs to, and its principal parts. A verb that does not follow all of the standard conjugation patterns of the language is said to be an irregular verb. The system of all conjugated variants of a particular verb or class of verbs is called a verb paradigm; this may be presented in the form of a conjugation table.

Lihir language

The Lihir language is an Austronesian language spoken in the Lihir island group, in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. It is notable for having 5 levels of grammatical number: singular, dual, trial, paucal and plural. It is questionable whether the trial is indeed trial or whether it is paucal, leaving there being a paucal and a greater paucal. Either way, this is the highest number of levels of grammatical number in any language. This distinction appears in both independent pronouns and possessor suffixes. There is some variation in pronunciation and orthography between the main island Niolam, and some of the smaller islands in the group.

Mass noun

In linguistics, a mass noun, uncountable noun, or non-count noun is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. Non-count nouns are distinguished from count nouns.

Given that different languages have different grammatical features, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary between languages. In English, mass nouns are characterized by the fact that they cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an). Thus, the mass noun "water" is quantified as "20 litres of water" while the count noun "chair" is quantified as "20 chairs". However, both mass and count nouns can be quantified in relative terms without unit specification (e.g., "so much water," "so many chairs").

Some mass nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity"—for example, "Many cleaning agents today are technically not soaps, but detergents." In such cases they no longer play the role of mass nouns, but (syntactically) they are treated as count nouns.

Some nouns can be used indifferently as mass or count nouns, e.g., three cabbages or three heads of cabbage; three ropes or three lengths of rope. Some have different senses as mass and count nouns: paper is a mass noun as a material (three reams of paper, two sheets of paper), but a count noun as a unit of writing ("the students passed in their papers").

Partitive case

The partitive case (abbreviated PTV or more ambiguously PART) is a grammatical case which denotes "partialness", "without result", or "without specific identity". It is also used in contexts where a subgroup is selected from a larger group, or with numbers.

Pite Sami language

Pite Sámi or Arjeplog Sámi (bidumsámegiella) is a Sámi language traditionally spoken in Sweden and Norway. It is a critically endangered language that has only about 25–50 native speakers left and is now only spoken on the Swedish side of the border along the Pite River in the north of Arjeplog and Arvidsjaur and in the mountainous areas of the Arjeplog municipality.


The plural (sometimes abbreviated PL), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical category of number. Plural of nouns typically denote a quantity other than the default quantity represented by a noun, which is generally one (the form that represents this default quantity is said to be of singular number). Most commonly, therefore, plurals are used to denote two or more of something, although they may also denote more than fractional, zero or negative amounts. An example of a plural is the English word cats, which corresponds to the singular cat.

Words of other types, such as verbs, adjectives and pronouns, also frequently have distinct plural forms, which are used in agreement with the number of their associated nouns.

Some languages also have a dual (denoting exactly two of something) or other systems of number categories. However, in English and many other languages, singular and plural are the only grammatical numbers, except for possible remnants of the dual in pronouns such as both and either.

Plurale tantum

A plurale tantum (Latin for "plural only", plural form: pluralia tantum) is a noun that appears only in the plural form and does not have a singular variant for referring to a single object. In a less strict usage of the term, it can also refer to nouns whose singular form is rarely used.

In English, pluralia tantum are often words which denote objects that occur or function as pairs or sets, such as spectacles, trousers, pants, scissors, clothes, or genitals. Other examples are for collections which, like alms and feces, cannot conceivably be singular. Other examples include suds, entrails, electronics, outskirts, odds, tropics, riches, surroundings, thanks, and heroics.

In some languages, pluralia tantum refer to points or periods of time (for example, Latin kalendae "calends, the first day of the month", German Ferien "vacation, holiday") or to events (for example, Finnish häät "wedding"). In some cases there is no obvious semantic reason for a particular noun to be plurale tantum. The Hebrew mayim "water", Chichewa madzí "water", Dutch hersenen "brain", Swedish pengar and Russian den'gi [деньги] "money" are pluralia tantum.

A bilingual example is the Latin word fasces, which was brought into English; when referring to the symbol of authority, it is a plurale tantum noun in both languages.

Royal we

The royal we, or majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis), is the use of a plural pronoun (or corresponding plural-inflected verb forms) to refer to a single person who is a monarch. The more general word for the use of a we, us, or our to refer to oneself is nosism.

Speakers employing the royal we refer to themselves using a grammatical number other than the singular (i.e., in plural or dual form). For example, in his manifesto confirming the abdication of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, Emperor Alexander I begins: "By the Grace of God, We, Alexander I, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias ....".


Singular may refer to:

Singular, the grammatical number that denotes a unit quantity, as opposed to the plural and other forms

Singular homology

SINGULAR, an open source Computer Algebra System (CAS)

Singular or sounder, a group of boar, see List of animal names

Singular matrix, a matrix that is not invertible

Singular measure, a measure or probability distribution whose support has zero Lebesgue (or other) measure

Singular cardinal, an infinite cardinal number that is not a regular cardinal

The property of a singularity or singular point in various meanings; see Singularity (disambiguation)

Singular (band), a Thai jazz pop duo

Singulative number

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 singular–plural pattern, where a noun is unmarked when

it represents one item, and is marked to represent more than one item.

Greenberg's linguistic universal #35 states that no language is purely singulative-collective in the sense that plural is always the null morpheme and singular is not.


Synesis is a traditional grammatical/rhetorical term derived from Greek σύνεσις (originally meaning "unification, meeting, sense, conscience, insight, realization, mind, reason").

A constructio kata synesin (or constructio ad sensum in Latin) is a grammatical construction in which a word takes the gender or number not of the word with which it should regularly agree, but of some other word implied in that word. It is effectively an agreement of words with the sense, instead of the morphosyntactic form.Example:

If the band are popular, they will play next month.Here, the plural pronoun they and the plural verb form are co-refer with the singular noun band. One can think of the antecedent of they as an implied plural noun such as musicians.

Such use in English grammar is often called notional agreement (or notional concord), because the agreement is with the notion of what the noun means, rather than the strict grammatical form of the noun (the normative formal agreement). The term situational agreement is also found, since the same word may take a singular or plural verb depending on the interpretation and intended emphasis of the speaker or writer:

The government is united. (Implication: it is a single cohesive body, with a single agreed policy).

The government are divided. (Implication: it is made up of different individuals or factions, with their own different policy views).Other examples of notional agreement for collective nouns involve some uses of the words team and none.

Although notional agreement is more commonly used in British English than in American English, some amount is natural in any variety of English. American style guides give advice, for example, on notional agreement for phrases such as a number of, a lot of, and a total of. The AMA Manual of Style says, "The number is singular and a number of is plural" (thus the number of mosquitoes is increasing but a number of brands of mosquito repellent are available) and "The same is true for the total and a total of" (thus the total was growing but a total of 28 volunteers have submitted applications [not *has submitted]). This is the same concept that is covered by Chicago style (16th ed) at "5.9 Mass noun followed by a prepositional phrase", but not all of the relevant nouns (including "number") are mass nouns.

Ume Sami language

Ume Sámi (ubmejensámien giella) is a Sámi language spoken in Sweden and (formerly) in Norway. It is a moribund language with only about 10 native speakers left which used to be spoken mainly along the Ume River in the south of present-day Arjeplog, in Sorsele and Arvidsjaur.

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