Beard, R. (1992) Number. In W. Bright (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Corbett, G. (2000). Number. Cambridge University Press. Greenberg,


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hree furnitures". This is true, even though the furniture referred to could, in principle, be counted. Thus the distinction between mass and count nouns shouldn't be made in terms of what sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how the nouns present these entities. The separate page for mass noun contains further explanation of this point.

Some words function in the singular as a count noun and, without a change in the spelling, as a mass noun in the plural: she caught a fish, we caught fish; he shot a deer, they shot some deer; the craft was dilapidated, the pier was chockablock with craft.


Collective Nouns


Collective nouns are nouns that refer to groups consisting of more than one individual or entity, even when they are inflected for the singular. Examples include "committee," "herd" and "school" (of herring). These nouns have slightly different grammatical properties than other nouns. For example, the noun phrases that they head can serve of the subject of a collective predicate, even when they are inflected for the singular. A collective predicate is a predicate that normally can't take a singular subject. An example of the latter is "surround the house."

Good: The boys surrounded the house.

Bad: *The boy surrounded the house.

Good: The committee surrounded the house.

Concrete nouns and abstract nouns

Concrete nouns refer to definite objectsobjects in which you use at least one of your senses. For instance, "chair", "apple", or "Janet". Abstract nouns on the other hand refer to ideas or concepts, such as "justice" or "hate". While this distinction is sometimes useful, the boundary between the two of them is not always clear. In English, many abstract nouns are formed by adding noun-forming suffixes ("-ness", "-ity", "-tion") to adjectives or verbs. Examples are "happiness", "circulation" and "serenity".


Nouns and pronouns


Noun phrases can be replaced by pronouns, such as "he", "it", "which", and "those", in order to avoid repetition or explicit identification, or for other reasons. For example, in the sentence "Janet thought that he was weird", the word "he" is a pronoun standing in place of the name of the person in question. The English word one can replace parts of noun phrases, and it sometimes stands in for a noun. An example is given below:

John's car is newer than the one that Bill has.

But one can also stand in for bigger subparts of a noun phrase. For example, in the following example, one can stand in for new car.

This new car is cheaper than that one.




In linguistics, 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". Note that, especially in the second sentence, this information can be considered 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:

Every noun belongs to a single number class. (Number partitions nouns into disjoint classes.)

Noun modifiers (such as adjectives) and verbs have different forms for each number class, and must be inflected to match the number of the nouns they refer to. (Number is an agreement category.)

This is the case in English: every noun is either singular or plural (a few, 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 they refer to: "this car" and "these cars" are correct, while "*this cars" or "*these car" are ungrammatical.

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.

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".


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 and/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.

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


Number in specific languages


English is typical of most world languages, in distinguishing only between singular and plural number. The plural form of a word is usually created by adding the suffix -(e)s. Common exceptions include the pronouns, which have irregular plurals, as in I versus we, because they are ancient and frequently used words.


In its written form, French declines nouns for number (singular or plural). In speech, however, the majority of nouns (and adjectives) are not actually declined for number. This is because the typical plural suffix -s, is silent, and thus does not really indicate a change in pronunciation; the plural article or determiner is the real indicator of plurality (but see Liaison (French) for a common exception). However, plural number still exists in spoken French because a significant percentage of irregular plurals differ from the singular in pronunciation; for example, cheval "horse" is pronounced [ʃəval], while chevaux "horses" is pronounced [ʃəvo].


In Hebrew, most nouns have only singular and plural forms, such as sefer/sfarim "book/books", but some have singular, plural, and dual forms, such as yom/yomaim/yamim "day/two days/[two or more] days". Some words occur so often in pairs that what used to be the dual form is now the general plural, such as ayin/eynayim "eye/eyes", used even in a sentence like, "The spider has eight eyes." Adjectives, verbs, and pronouns have only singular and plural, with the plural forms of these being used with dual nouns.

Obligatoriness of number marking

In many languages, such as English, number is obligatorily expressed in every grammatical context; in other languages, however, number expression is limited 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).

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".

Number agreement

Verb conjugation

In many languages, verbs are conjugated for 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.

Agreement in other lexical items

Adjectives often agree with the number of the noun they modify. For example, in French, one says un grand arbre [œ̃ gʀɑ̃t aʀbʀ] "a tall tree", but deux grands arbres [dø gʀɑ̃z aʀbʀ] "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&quo

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