In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category
of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verb agreement
that expresses count distinctions (such as "one", "two", or "three or more"). 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 sign
s "No." and "Nos." respectively. Some languages also have a dual
, and paucal
number or other arrangements.
The count distinctions typically, but not always, correspond to the actual count of the referent
s 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:
belongs to a unique number class (nouns are partitioned into disjoint classes by number).
(such as adjectives) and verb
s 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" and cannon
, can be either, according to context), and at least some modifiers of nouns—namely the demonstrative
s, the personal pronouns
, the articles
, and verb
s—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 some verb forms do not distinguish between singular and plural ("She/They went", "She/They can go", "She/They had gone", "She/They will go"). 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. (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 numeral
s, or indirectly, through optional quantifier
s. However, many of these languages compensate for the lack of grammatical number with an extensive system of measure word
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.
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.
Number in specific languages
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
also contained dual grammatical numbers; Modern English retains a few residual terms reflective of dual number (such as ''both'' and ''neither'', as opposed to ''all'' and ''none'' respectively), but they are generally considered to no longer constitute a separate grammatical number.
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
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
* some plurals do differ from the singular in pronunciation; for example, masculine singulars in ''-al'' sometimes form masculine plurals in ''-aux'' .
* Proper nouns
are not pluralized, even in writing. (''Les voitures'', but ''Les Peugeot 404
Normally, the article or determiner is the primary spoken indicator of number.
In Modern Hebrew
, a Semitic language
, most nouns have only singular and plural forms, such as ספר "book" and ספרים "books", but some have distinct dual forms using a distinct dual suffix (largely nouns pertaining to numbers or time, such as אלפיים "two thousand" and שבועיים "two weeks"), some use this dual suffix for their regular plurals (largely body parts that tend to come in pairs, such as עיניים "eyes", as well as some that do not, such as שיניים "teeth"), and some are inherently dual (such as מכנסיים "pants" and אופניים "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.
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. There are no other dual or trial grammatical forms in the Mortlockese language. 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.
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". The same form is used with countable nouns in meaning "only": Кругом одни идиоты "There are only idiots around".
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, but adjectives do.
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 language
s, 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''. 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.
ʔi=na-tafi-ʔa oloroa wa
3SG=REAL-carve-TR six canoe
He carved six canoes.
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.
In other languages, singulatives can be regularly formed from collective noun
s; e.g. Standard Arabic
''tuffāḥ'' "apple" → ''tuffāḥah'' "(individual) apple", ''baqar'' "cattle" → ''baqarah'' "(single) cow". 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
, Old Norse
, and Old English
for example—and can still be found in a few modern Indo-European languages such as Slovene
. 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. Former dual forms may broaden their meanings to become paucal forms: 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 plural
s, masculine plural nouns end with ون ' and feminine plural nouns end with ات ', whilst ان ', 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
, 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.
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, and in Sursurunga
, in Tangga, 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. 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
, Lower Sepik-Ramu languages
some Oceanic languages
, 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. When paucal number is used in Arabic, it generally refers to ten or fewer instances.
Of the Indo-European languages, Kurmanji
(also known as Northern Kurdish) is one of the few known languages with paucal number. For instance: "car-IN-an" (sometimes), cf. "gelek car-an" (many times) and "car" (time). Another example is "sêv-IN-an" (some apples), "sêvan" (the apples), "sêv" (apple). It can be applied to basically all nouns. In Russian
, the genitive
singular is also applied to two, 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, gen.pl.).
Distributive plural number is for many instances viewed as independent individuals (for example, in Navajo
s typically distinguish grammatical number by inflection
. (Analytic language
s, 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
, is an unmarked plural contrasting with marked singular. Below are some examples of number affix
es for nouns (where the inflecting morpheme
s are underlined):
ation (by adding or removing prefix
es, or circumfix
: ''puu'' "tree, wood" (singular) – ''puud
'' "the trees, woods" (nominative plural), or ''kolm puud'' "three trees" (partitive
: ''lehmä'' "cow, the cow" (singular) – ''lehmät
'' "the cows" (nominative
: ''dağ'' "the mountain" (singular) – ''dağlar
'' "mountains" (plural)
: ' "linden" (singular) – ' "linden" (dual) – ' "linden" (plural)
: पुरुषस् ''puruṣas
'' "man" (singular) – पुरुषौ ''puruṣau
'' "two men" (dual) – पुरुषास् ''puruṣās
'' "men" (plural)
: මලක් ''malak
'' "flower" (singular) – මල් ''mal'' "flowers" (plural)
toto'' "child" (singular) – ''wa
toto'' "children" (plural)
sajja'' "man" (singular) – ''aba
sajja'' "men" (plural)
: კაცი ''k'aci'' "man" (singular) – კაცები ''k'aceb
i'' "men" (where ''-i'' is the nominative case marker)
: ''plant'' "children" (collective) – ''ple
'' "child" (singulative) Care should be taken with Welsh not to confuse ''singulative/collective'' with ''singular/plural'', see Colloquial Welsh nouns.
(through various kinds of internal sound alternations
: كِتَاب ''ki
b'' "book" (singular) – كُتُب ''ku
b'' "books" (plural)
(alternating between different vowels):
t'' "frame" – ''kɛ
t'' – ''fee
tter'' "mother" – ''Mü
n'' "boy" – ''be
n'' "boys" (See ''affection'')
: ''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)
: ''kumit'' "pot" (singular) – ''kuj
-kumit'' "pots" (plural); similar to Indonesian, reduplication is omitted when plurality is marked elsewhere or not emphasized.
: ''buug'' "book" (singular) – ''buug-ag
'' "books" (plural)
(the use of the one word as the inflected form of another word):
: ''čov(j)ek'' "man" (singular) – ''ljudi'' "men, folks" (plural)
(by changing a drag tone to a push tone)
: ''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 pronoun
s in dependent-marking language
s or on verb
s and adjectives
in head-marking language
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.
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'' ɐˈŋa
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
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 k
'one' and ui
'two', can be realized as both free morpheme
. 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.
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 language
s, 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
, 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 . In many such languages, number tends to be marked for definite and highly animate
referents, most notably first-person pronouns.
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 class
es which inflect for number as follows:
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''.*
A similar system is seen in Kiowa
(Kiowa is distantly related to Tanoan languages like Jemez):
(See also Taos language: Number inflection
for a description of inverse number suffixes in another Tanoan language.)
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
s often agree with the number of the noun they modify. For example, in French
, one says ''un grand arbre'' "a tall tree", but ''deux grands arbres'' "two tall trees". The singular adjective ''grand'' becomes ''grands'' in the plural, unlike English "tall", which remains unchanged.
s may agree with number. In English, the demonstrative
s "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 article
s 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 ''Yöt ovat pimeitä'' "Nights are dark", each word referring to the plural noun ''yöt'' "nights" ("night" = ''yö'') is pluralized (night-PL
Sometimes, grammatical number will not represent the actual quantity, a form-meaning mismatch
. For example, in Ancient Greek neuter
plurals took a singular verb. 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"
, 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''.
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 versus 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
means. That is, it is indicated by certain grammatical elements, such as through affix
es 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.
s often have fairly simple systems of grammatical number. In one of the most common schemes (found, for example, in Interlingua
), 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.
* Count noun
* Generic antecedent
* Grammatical agreement
* Grammatical conjugation
* Grammatical person
* Measure word
* Names of numbers in English
* Noun class
* Plurale tantum
* Romance plurals