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What are Numeral Adjectives?

Numerals are adjectival words which are used to express the relation of number and quantity.

They are useful in denoting the number of nounsOpens in new window (people or things) or the order in which they stand and maintain clarity by giving exact information.

Because they are adjectival words, numerals are usually classed with adjectivesOpens in new window. As a result, they are called numeral adjectives.

As with pronounsOpens in new window, numeral adjectives can be divided, according to their signification and form, into:

  1. substantiveOpens in new window (e.g., a hundred),
  2. adjective (e.g., ten men), and
  3. adverbial numerals (e.g., tenthly).

Classification of Numerals

Numerals are sub–divided into various forms. The most common are the two forms:

  1. Cardinal numerals (also called cardinals), and
  2. Ordinal numerals (or Ordinals).
  1. Cardinal Numerals

    The Cardinal numerals (such as one, two, three, etc.) express number in its simplest form, and answer the question “how many?” as, one, two, three, four, and so on indefinitely.

    The word one is naturally singular. So, the rest are naturally plural. Cardinals are properly attributive; we may use them to express the repetition of a substance in space.

    Important Hint  

    Note that the terms Cardinal Numerals or Cardinals as used throughtout this entry are the pluralized forms and refer to more than one numeral. However, the singular form is either Cardinal Numeral or Cardinal.

    Divisions of Cardinal Numerals

    Cardinal numerals are sub–divided into the following:

    1. Abstract Numeral

      The abstract numerals express two relations of quantity. They express the preceding numbers used substantively; as— the ones, the tens.

      Abstract numerals also by words express relation of quantity derived from the LatinOpens in new window; as— unity, trinity; or by words derived from the GreekOpens in new window; as— monad Opens in new window, duad Opens in new window.

    2. Distributive Numeral

      The distributive numerals express relation of quantity as— one by one, two by two, fifties etc. These are expressed in English only by adverbial phrases.

    3. Iterative Numeral

      The iterative numerals express relation of quantity as— once, twice, thrice. These are basically the genitives of the abstract numerals used adverbially. The series continues by means of adverbial phrases; as— four times, five times, etc. and answers to the question “how often?”

  2. Ordinal Numerals

    Also known as ordinals, the ordinal numerals indicate a series of entities, and answer the question “which one in the series?” as— first, second, third, fourth etc.

    1. The Ordinal first is a superlative form derived from the root fore.

    2. The word second, however, is derived from the Latin word secundus.

      The remainder of the ordinals are derived from the cardinal numerals by the addition of the sound of th, subject to slight variations.

    3. In third, th becomes d.

    4. In fifth the vowel is shortened. However, in the third there is the transposition of the letter r.

    For the most part, adverbs of order are derived from the preceding, by means of the adverbial affix ly; as— firstly, or, better put, first, secondly, thirdly, etc. and lastly.

    In the higher numbers it is appropriate to use an adverbial phrase as, “In the eleventh place”, “in the twelfth place.”

  3. Multiplicative Numerals

    Also known as multiplicatives, the multiplicative numerals indicate the number of parts of which a whole is composed, and answer the question “how many fold?” as— single, double, triple, or four-fold or quadruple.

  4. Partitive Numerals

    The PartitivesOpens in new window include half, a third, a quarter, or fourth part. They are mostly used as substantivesOpens in new window.

  5. Indefinite Numerals

    Indefinite numerals include many, few, some, all, much, less, several, whole, enough, other, another, only, alone, more, any, none, aught, naught, something, nothing, somewhat, etc.

  6. Indefinite Quantitatives

    The Indefinite Quantitatives include great, little, some, all.

    For the most part, they are taken from the indefinite numerals:

    1. sometimes by different words such as great and little, or large and small (comp. many and few);
    2. sometimes by a different construction such as — some water (comp. some men); all the house (comp. all houses).

    The indefinite numerals and quantitatives form antitheses; as— many opposed to few; great to little; large to small; all to some.

  7. Compound Numerals

    In compound numerals of the ordinal series, it is only the last number that takes the ordinal termination.

    For Example:
    • the thirty-third year
    • the five hundred and twenty-fifth year.

    We may compare this with our mode of adding a genitive termination to such phrases as the King of England, the King of England’s crown.

    As we consider King of England a sort compound substantive, and add the mark of the genitive to the end of it, so we consider five hundred and twenty–five a compound adjective, and are satisfied with having the mark of its class put on to the end.

    When units are combined with tens, they are placed either first, with “and,” or last, with–out “and” (four–and–twenty, or twenty–four); but after a hundred the smaller number is always last; as— “a hundred and twenty–four”.

  8. Plural Forms

    The cardinal numerals take the plural form, though all cardinals except one are naturally plural. Consider the lines below from Wordsworth and Shakespeare:

      • “The sun has long been set,
        The stars are out by twos and threes,
        The little birds are piping yet
        Among the bushes and the trees.”


      • “We are not to stay altogether, but to come to him where he stands by ones, by twos, and by threes.”


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