plural number/noun agreement

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by Gavril, Sep 1, 2012.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    In standard English, numerals higher than one are accompanied by the plural of a noun:

    one house -> two houses

    However, there are other languages where this is not the case:

    Finnish (yksi) talo ”one house” > kaksi taloa ”two houses”

    In this case, the form taloa is not the plural of the word meaning “house”, but the partitive singular: the literal translation of kaksi taloa would be something like “two of a house”.

    In Welsh, the numbers 1-9 don’t take the plural form of the noun:

    dau fys “two fingers”
    naw dinas “nine cities”

    Higher numbers do take the plural, but the preposition o “of” comes between the numeral and the noun:

    deg o fysedd “ten fingers”
    ugain o ddinasoedd “twenty cities”

    What other systems of agreement between nouns + plural numbers do you know of?
  2. Finland Senior Member


    Arabic has an interesting system:

    1 and 2 are considered adjectives. They follow the noun and agree with gender.

    Numbers from 3 to 10 are "polar": a feminine noun agrees with a numeral in masculine gender and vice versa; the noun has to be indefinite genitive plural.

    Numbers 11 and 13–19 are followed by a singular indefinite noun in the accusative. (I won't go into the case system for the numeral, it's a bit complicated).

    From 20 on, the "full tens" (20, 30, ... 90, 100, 1000, 1000000 etc.) are considered normal nouns and are followed by a noun in accusative singular (from 20 to 90) or genitive singular (100 and up). The "non full tens" (21, 22, 23...) are followed by a noun in accusative singular and obey similar rules as smaller numbers for polarity etc.

    And this is a simplification of the whole system, because there are still several special cases...

  3. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Terve Finland,

    What about the number 12? I don't see it mentioned elsewhere in your post, but maybe I'm missing something.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2012
  4. ancalimon Senior Member

    In Turkish:

    bir ev (one house)
    iki ev (two houses)

    Numbers themselves carry the plural or singular meaning so it would be wrong to say:

    iki evler

    Thus for example:

    I bought two houses : İki ev aldım.
    I bought houses : Evler aldım.
  5. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    The numerals are really hard in Lithuanian. Most have two genders (masculine and feminine -- some forms overlap so they are the same for both genders) Most numerals go through declensions. The numerals decide about the form of the noun that follows them. The final digit usually decides. So, 1 takes a singular noun -- either masculine or feminine. The numeral and the noun goes through declensions. Now if another numeral ends in 1, except 11, let's say 51, the number of the noun will be singular and both will go through declensions. Numerals ending in 2-9, except 12 and 19, take plural nouns ( in the nominative, both genders) and they go through declensions. Numerals from 11 to 19 and the ones ending in 0 take Genitive of the plural noun (either masculine or feminine and they don't go through declensions. It is also quite complicated in Polish and Russian, but maybe someone can better describe the rules in those languages.
  6. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    In Russian one has a very complicated and very interesting system of numerals.

    1). The word "один" (one) is simply an adjective, and it behaves completely like an adjective, agreeing with its noun in both number, case and gender — this is the easiest part of the system. One is free to choose the number, it can be singular or plural according to what one wishes to say.
    2). Collective numerals and cardinal numerals that end in anything except "два" (two), "три" (three) or "четыре" (four) are more complicated. In oblique cases they behave like adjectives, too, but the number of the pair "adjective-noun" is necessarily plural, it can't be singular; instead, in direct cases they take a plural genitive noun and govern it like nouns do; so, such numerals are chameleons, in direct cases they are like nouns, and in oblique cases they are like adjectives. These numerals do not decline in genders.
    - 2a). Every such numeral, when playing like a noun (in direct cases), has the same form in both nominative and accusative cases.
    - 2b). If the noun is animate, and the case is accusative, and if the numeral is collective, then the rule for oblique cases applies.
    3). Cardinal numerals that end in "два", "три" or "четыре" are tricky as well: in oblique cases, they serve like adjectives for plural nouns, agreeing with them in case, exactly like (2), and in direct cases they are similar to (2), too, but with the important exception that they take a genitive singular noun, and not a genitive plural one. In direct cases, "два" has two forms, one feminine and one masculine/neuter, and the choice of the form depends on the governed noun; the other two do not have special gender forms.
    - 3a). If the noun is animate, and the case is accusative, and if the numeral is collective, then the rule for oblique cases applies (the same as 2b).
    - 3b). But sometimes, depending on the meaning to be expressed, such cardinal numerals "turn off" the noun's animacy; the dependence on the meaning is tricky, I can't explain it.

    The reason for the strange behaviour of the group (3) is a historical coincidence, a joke of history (explanation).
    Hi, Gavril, I think you're oversimplifying the English system of numerals. :) What about words like "hundred", "thousand" and so on, and their ways to use articles, prepositions and nouns? (I think I'm not aware of all the rules, but that seems to be rather complicated, because sometimes you use the preposition "of" and sometimes you do not, if I'm not mistaken, and there must be something with 201, 1001 or 1005000 as well, for example ands).

    PS: so it seems that numerals in Lithuanian are really simple, comparing to those in Russian! :)
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  7. arielipi Senior Member

    hebrew is strict with numeral agreement and the noun - the noun is either female or male, and by its gender we accompany the agreed number. only exception is every decimal excluding ten, where in both sexes we say the same word.
  8. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    This is similar to Finnish -- if a numeral is in an oblique case (anything besides the nominative or accusative), the noun and the numeral agree in case: kahdessa talossa "in two houses", kymmenellä sormella "on ten fingers", etc.

    Unlike Russian, though, the noun following the numeral stays in the singular.

    I'm not sure what you're referring to. In English, any number higher than one takes the plural form of a noun as a general rule:

    200 cars
    1,001 dollars
    2,000,046 grains of sand

    The preposition "of" doesn't appear after any simple cardinal numeral, at least not regularly; it does appear when you turn a numeral into a plural noun (tens of houses, hundreds of cars, etc.), but I was focusing on basic cardinal numbers in this case.
  9. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Well, some irregularites that I have encountered and that embarrassed me:
    1. two cars vs. a hundred cars
    2. ten cars vs. ten thousand_ cars
    3. ten thousand cars vs. ten thousand of them (probably, only in special contexts, but still; "Five of you will chase a hundred of them, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand of them. You will defeat your enemies" — it is here :)confused:) ).
    4. Some ands appear here and there in complex numerals.

    But you're right, the pattern of having plural nouns after cardinals greater than one is extremely widespread in English, it is applied almost everywhere, which is often not the case for other languages.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  10. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Hi, Yes, I agree the numeral system might be even more mysterious in Russian than in Lithuanian because of the definite use of numerals, and the indefinite use. They take over the function of the articles to a certain extent. (definite, indefinite). Nothing is really simple in Lithuanian, I think, as far as declensions go, but it might be more organized -- with fewer exceptions. Russian has unbelievably many exceptions all over, and so does Polish -- maybe slightly less.

    Hi, Gavril. As to Finnish -- I think the similarity to Russian is accidental. Finnish is a language from a totally different group. I think the situation in Chinese might be interesting. I don't know that much about Chinese, but from what I was told even forming the plural is interesting, since the singular noun gets repeated. Does Chinese even use one, or two at all in front of nouns, or does the noun just get repeated.
  11. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    This has nothing (necessarily) to do with whether Finnish and Baltic/Slavic can influence one another. There's been quite a lot of vocabulary exchange between the two groups, and I think that there are signs of mutual influence in some more subtle features (e.g., word order) as well.

    If the Russian system of number/noun agreement were extremely common across languages, you could claim that its similarity with the Finnish system was coincidental, but I don't know how common systems like the Russian/Slavic one are.
  12. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Hi, Gavril. What about Finnish and Hungarian? The noun stays in the singular after many numerals in Hungarian, which is a language from the same group as Finnish. The indefinite use and definite use of numerals may be similar in those languages? That might be worth examining? Do numerals indicating plural objects take singular noun forms in indefinite structures? I am also an opponent of the Baltio-Slavic theory, but this is really beyond the scope of this thread.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  13. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Chinese nouns have no plural form. The usual construction to express the quantity of something is number + measure word + noun, for example:

    一把椅子 - one + measure word + chair = one chair
    两双筷子 - two + pair + chopsticks = two pairs of chopsticks

    What is hard to master is the measure word itself, as different nouns use different measure words, and even nouns that are very similar in nature can have different measure words. For example, cows are counted in 头 (literally heads), but horses are counted in 匹. However, the word 匹 is also used to count rolls of cloth or silk.

    Also, the number 2 is a unique number, as it changes form according to the situation. When used independently or as an ordinal number, it usually takes the form 二 (第二名 - second place), but when used to count nouns, it usually takes the form 两 (两台电视机 - two TVs). When combined to make higher numbers (e.g. two hundred/thousand/million etc.), both are used and considered acceptable (两千三百/二千三百 - two thousand three hundred)
  14. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Hi, AquisM. Isn't the graphic representation, however, using a sign representing a singular item repeated to indicate the plurality of the thing. For example two person signs to represent people?
  15. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    I'm not entirely sure what you mean...
  16. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    What kenji do you use to say two people. Two plus two kenjis indicating a person?
  17. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    Hi, Liliana,

    Could you please explain, what you understand by 'definite' use of numerals in Russian? I am not aware of such...
  18. francisgranada Senior Member


    The plurality in a prase is expressed only once. I.e. when there is a number or a word that expresses the plurality (two, three, thousend, many, few, some...), no explicit plural marker is used:

    egy nagy új ház (one big new house)
    három nagy új ház (lit. three big new house)
    sok nagy új ház (lit. many big new house)
    néhány nagy új ház (lit. some big new house)

    Otherwise, the plurality is expressed on the last word (noun) using the plural marker -k:

    nagy új házak (big new houses)
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  19. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    What I had in mind was the use of the numeral with an adjective and a noun where the object is definite, as opposed to constructions where it is indefinite "Give me two new books" and "Give me these two new books" Would the numeral change in any of such structures, or would just the other components change? I am not sure now if the numeral changes, but this is the type of constructions I had in mind.

    There are really no definite and indefinite articles, or even adjectives in Russian, so the definiteness is often expressed by using the object in the accusative for definite objects and the genitive for indefinite objects, similar use like the partitive I am not sure if the numeral itself in some constructions like that changes, or only the parts that follow it change. I would intuitively say it right, but when i think about it, I am not 100% sure about the rules
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2012
  20. e2-e4 X Senior Member

    The numeral is identical in both cases. An adjective might change (and might not), but this is a different story. Yes, that's true: when numerals that end in "два", "три" or "четыре" are used, and the noun goes in a direct case, and the noun belongs either to the first ("книга", book) or the third ("кровать") declension, then the use of real adjectives accompanying the noun is complicated, because they never agree with the noun in number, and sometimes they do not agree in case: "he gave me two new books" is either "он подал мне две новые (acc, pl.) книги (gen. sing.)" or "он подал мне две новых (gen., pl.) книги (gen. sing.)". In the second declension only the second variant is valid: "он соорудил два новых (gen. pl.) стола (gen. sing.)". The difference is because in the first and the third declension of nouns the genitive singular and the accusative/nominative plural coincide, so one can easily be mistaken for the other.

    But I would not say it is connected very much with the English concept of definiteness. Some difference between "две новых книги" and "две новые книги" exists, and the second is more "definite" than the first, but all that is in no way parallel to the English the/a distinction.
    The definiteness in Russian is often not expressed at all and only understood through context, provided by other constructions and words, having a different meaning.
    Forgot to mention:
    4). The words "тысяча" (thousand), "миллион" (million), "миллиард" (billion), and so on, are nouns themselves and always behave like nouns (for example, other numerals can govern them).
    5). A number is represented as a string of numeral words, and obviously, the behaviour of the noun that follows the number depends on the last numeral in the string.

    [Unfortunately, I had to put these points separately from the rest and thus have the list splitted, because I was too late to remember the "4" :) ]
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2012
  21. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    No. Plurality is expressed by measure words and numerals, very much like Turkish and Hungarian expressed above (with the difference that Mandarin can't decline the noun to indicate plurality in the absence of a measure word or numeral).
  22. francisgranada Senior Member

    Measure words are used sometimes also in other languages, even if not obbligatorily and they don't form a special grammatical cathegory. E.g. in Hungarian:

    három darab alma (lit. three piece apple, without any plural marker or case ending)
    három szál gyufa (lit. three stick match)
    két pohár víz (lit. two glass water)

    These Hungarian constructions are similar to the Chinese (unlike the Eglish two glasses of water or Spanish dos vasos de agua).
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  23. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    Just like Hungarian, Turkish also has measure words that behave like in Chinese, i.e. no need for a genitive.

    Üç dilim elma (lit. three piece apple)
    Üç bardak su (lit. three glass water)

    There is also the word tane which denotes the whole individual object, and can be used for anything.

    Üç tane elma (three -??- apple)
    Üç tane su (three -??- water) < This can mean 3 glasses; 3 bottles etc. depending on the context.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  24. francisgranada Senior Member

    Üç means both three and five :)? ...

    It's interesting, in Hungarian I can't find a general "measure word"
  25. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Well, somebody taught me, a Mandarin-speaking person, that if you want to say, or rather write in this case, one tree, you use the kenji denoting a tree -- when you want to write trees you use two kenjis indicating a tree. That would just be to say trees. I am not sure how many kenjis you use to write three trees (probably the numer three, a measure word, and a single kenji indicating a tree) Would that be right?
  26. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    Oops, heh! I first wrote beş (five), then thought I should only have one variable in the sentence, but forgot about the translation. Now edited.

    First of all it's Hanzi. Kanji, with an a, is the Japanese name for it.

    Secondly, that phenomenon exists only for the concept of tree. Speaking of Japanese:

    木 : tree
    林 : wood; grove
    森 : forest; jungle

    This is not a pattern that you can use for any word. Say, you want to say cars, you don't draw twice the hanzi/kanji for car; nor thrice to mean a traffic jam and what not for that matter. It's an isolated case for the concept of tree.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  27. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Also, this graphic representation of a wood being composed of more than one tree and a forest even more creates a new Chinese character (or hanzi). These characters have different pronunciations and the meaning is changed. 林 does not mean two trees, but a wood/grove. Plus, in Chinese, 木 means wood, whereas in Japanese it means tree. In Chinese, tree is 树. To say two trees you would use the basic structure of number + measure word + noun:

    两棵树 two trees (两 - two, 棵 - measure word, 树 - tree)
    三棵树 three trees (三 - three)
  28. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Yes, you are right -- kanji is a Japanese word to denote the simplified version of the Chinese hanzi. I usually call them characters or logograms. Sorry about the confusion. Well, I was told that the doubling of characters in Chinese was not particularly limited to the word tree -- the word people is created the same way, and some others, according to what I was told. I don't know what it is in Japanese. It might be different.

    And thank you, Aquis. Yes, I know you have to use the number, the measure word and the noun in the singular to say how many of something. I just thought before that you use the number character and then the double character denoting the object to mark plurality.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012
  29. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    There are a few words that employ doubling or tripling characters, such as:

    人 - man, 众 - people (only works in Simplified Chinese, the Traditional Chinese counterpart for 众 is 眾)
    火 - fire, 炎 - extreme heat/inflammation
    水 - water, 淼 - a wide expanse of water

    However, as I said, these are separate characters and do not constitute the plural in the sense we're talking about.
  30. rayloom

    rayloom Senior Member

    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    12 is one of the special cases Finland was talking about.
    As the other numbers from 11-19, it's followed by a singular indefinite noun in the accusative. The inflection of the numeral though differs from the others in the group (11 & 13-19) in that it's also made of a compound word, the 1st part is inflected like the dual and depending on the syntax (its position within the sentence), while the second part is in the accusative. Also unlike the others (from 11-19), none of its forming parts is polar (i.e. It agrees with the counted noun in gender).
  31. ahmedcowon Senior Member

    In Arabic:

    House: Bayt
    Houses: Beyout

    1 -> "Singular + Wahed" ; e.g. One House = بيت واحد Bayt Wahed

    2 -> "Singular+aan" ; e.g. Two Houses = بيتان Baytaan

    3 to 10 -> "Number + Plural" ; e.g. Three Houses = ثلاثة بيوت Thalathat Beyout

    more than 10 -> "Number + Singular" ; e.g. Twelve Houses = إثنا عشر بيت Ethna'shar Bayt
  32. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    In Tagalog :1.) House= Bahay 2.) Houses= mga bahay by adding "mga" the word/noun become plural.
  33. Nino83 Senior Member

    Ciao, Francis.
    Here they say that the word "darab" can be used for inanimate objects.

    két szál rózsa => two "thread" rose (szál for long, thin objects)
    két darab rózsa => two "piece" rose (darab is a general counter for inanimate objects).

    What do you think about this paper?
  34. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    In Greek numerals higher than one, take the noun in plural, also nouns in plural are modified by adjectives in plural. The rule is that adjectives and nouns must agree in number, case, and gender:

    «Ένα αυτοκίνητο» [ˈena ˈaftoˈcinito] (neut. nom. sing.) --> one car, «τρία αυτοκίνητα» [ˈtri.a aftoˈcinita] (neut. nom. pl.) --> three cars.
    «Ένα κόκκινο αυτοκίνητο» [ˈena ˈkocino aftoˈcinito] (neut. nom. sing.) --> one red car, «ενός κόκκινου αυτοκίνητου» [eˈnos ˈkocinu aftoˈcinitu] (neut. gen. sing.) --> of-one red car.
    «Tέσσερα κόκκινα αυτοκίνητα» [ˈteseɾa ˈkocina aftoˈcinita] (neut. nom. pl.) --> four red cars, «τεσσάρων κόκκινων αυτοκινήτων» [teˈsaɾon ˈkocinon aftociˈniton] (neut. gen. pl.) --> of-four red cars.
    Note also that the numerals 1,3,4 have three genders.
  35. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    اثنا عشر بيتا
  36. francisgranada Senior Member

    The paper is interesting. However, darab (piece) is used e.g. also in Slovak (kus) in a quite similar way. Finally, in Italian we have pezzo, used perhaps in a less general meaning than in Hungarian, but neither in Hungarian is obligatory. Plus, in a normal speech one rarely says e.g. két darab asztal (two pieces of table), even if in an order list, for example, it's possible.

    BTW the words like darab, szál etc... can be equally used with the number "one", so they don't serve as plural indicators. E.g. egy szál rózsa, egy darab rózsa.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2016
  37. Nino83 Senior Member

    Ah, so they're not so common in speech. Interesting info. :thumbsup:
  38. francisgranada Senior Member

    I'd say that these words (darab, szál, szem ...) are in Hungarian (especially in the common speech) used rather to render the meaning more precise or better understandable, not as grammaticalized classifiers. For example, két szál rózsa means two separate "pieces" of roses and not e.g. a branch with two roses on it. The same way három szem cukor means three "grains/bits ..." of sugar and not e.g. three sachets/bags of sugar.

    Having read the article you cited, I admit that on the scale where one extreme is Non Classifier Language and the other extreme is Fully Classifier Language, the Hungarian occupies a bit higher position than e.g. the Italian, but not too significantly, in my humble opinion.
  39. spindlemoss

    spindlemoss Senior Member

    This is a good rule for learners, but in practice, both [numeral + singular] and [numeral + o + plural] can be found with both small and large numbers:

    dau o blant "two children"

    wyth tŷ
    / wyth o dai "eight houses"

    can mlynedd "a hundred years"

    Occasionally the number "two" (dau masculine, dwy feminine) combines with a noun to make a single unit.

    dau + dydd > deuddydd "two days"

    dau + mis > deufis "two months"

    dwy + blwydd > dwyflwydd "two years (old)"

    Sometimes it happens with other phrases of measurement too.

    deg + punt > decpunt "two pounds" (money)

    cant + punt > canpunt "a hundred pounds" (money)

    cant + llath > canllath "a hundred yards"
  40. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Thank you for reminding me that we do something similar, we combine the combinatory «δι-» [ði-] (Latin bi-), from the numeral «δύο» [ˈði.o] --> two, «τρι-» [tri-], from the numeral «τρία» [ˈtri.a] --> three, «τετρα-» [tetra-], from the numeral «τέσσερα» [ˈteseɾa] --> four (and so on) with the noun «ημέρα» [iˈmeɾa] (fem.) --> day, or «μήνας» [ˈminas] (masc.) --> month and form a new neuter singular noun:
    «Διήμερο» [ðiˈimeɾo] (neut. nom. sing.) --> two-days, «δίμηνο» [ˈðimino] (neut. nom. sing.) --> two-months, «τετράμηνο» [teˈtramino] (neut. nom. sing.) --> four-months, «πενθήμερο» [penˈθimeɾo] (neut. nom. sing.) --> five-days, etc.
    Or with «έτος» [ˈetos]* (neut.) --> year, e.g. «τριετία» [tri.eˈti.a] (fem. nom. sing.) --> three-years, «εξαετία» [ek͡sa.eˈti.a] (fem. nom. sing.) --> six-years etc.

    The same thing we do with money:
    «Δίευρο» [ˈðievro] (neut. nom. sing.) --> two-euro, «δεκάευρο» [ðeˈka.evro] (neut. nom. sing.) --> tenner etc

    *MoGr neut. noun «έτος» [ˈetos] --> year < Classical neut. noun «ἔτος» étŏs (idem) (PIE *u̯et-os- year cf Hitt. u̯itt- year, Alb. vit, year, Latv. vecs, old, ancient)
  41. spindlemoss

    spindlemoss Senior Member

    Cool! Sometimes it's even heard in colloquial varieties of English e.g. "a two mile" for "two miles" in northern England.

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