Numeral: General characteristics

June 14th, 20122:17 am


Numeral: General characteristics

While the noun, the adjective, and the verb are characterized by all the three properties of a part of speech – morphological, syntactic and semantic, the numeral, like the pronoun, is distinguished only due to its lexical mean­ing. Numerals indicate exact number or the order of persons and things in a series. Accordingly, numerals are divided into cardinal numerals (car­dinals) and ordinal numerals (ordinals). Numerals have no morphologi­cal paradigm, which distinguishes them from the nouns dozen, score, half, etc. that have a similar lexical meaning but combine it with the category of number. The same holds for the cardinals hundred, thousand, million that are numerals when they indicate exact number: two thousand five hundred and twelve. The nouns used to denote a vast amount approximately, without indicating an exact figure and functioning in the plural form, are their homo­nyms: e.g. thousands of cars, by twos and threes. The lack of a paradigm makes numerals different from the adjectives many, much, few and little that have the forms of comparison.

Another morphological property of numerals is their system of word-building suffixes. The cardinal numerals from 13 to 19 are derivatives with the suffix -teen; the cardinals indicating tens are formed by means of the suffix -ty; the cardinal numerals from 21 to 29, from 31 to 39 are compound, whereas ordinals are formed by means of the suffix -th, with the exception of the first three suppletive forms -first, second, third.

Syntactically numerals are less distinct from other parts of speech. Thus, they may carry out functions common for nouns and adjectives:

Two [attribute] big ideas, not just one, arc at issue: the evolution of all species, as a historical phenomenon, and natural selection, as the main mechanism causing that phenomenon. The first [subject] is a question of what happened. The second [subject] is a question of how. (Quammen)

“In our lifetime, says economist Robert K.Kaufman of Boston Univer­sity, who is forty-six [predicative], “we will have to deal with a peak in the supply of cheap oil. (Appenzeller)

Last year newly prosperous professionals snapped up over two million [object] – up 70 percent of cars over 2002. (Appenzeller)

Using data from the US Geological Survery, Greene presents a brighter picture, with world production most likely to peak around 2040 [adverbial modifier of time]. (Appenzeller)

It should be mentioned that, in the sentence, both cardinal and ordinal numerals perform, as a rule, the attributive function. It should be noted, however, that the substantivized position is most frequently caused by ana­phoric use:

It could be five years from now or thirty: No one knows for sure, and geologists and economists are embroiled in debate about just when the “oil peak” will be upon us. (Appenzeller)

Cardinal numerals, i.e. those indicating exact number, are used non-anaphorically if they denote an abstract number: Two and two is four. In the at­tributive position cardinal numeral influences the form of a noun – singular or plural: one day two days.

Ordinal numerals, indicating a fraction denominator, are completely substantivized and are used in the plural form:

In the US about two-thirds of the oil goes to make fuel for cars, trucks, and planes. (Appenzeller)

Cardinal numerals may also be used with the definite article: No one moved: the two were waiting for the right moment to strike. These cases may be interpreted as partially substantivized.

Absence of formal, i.e. morphological properties, as well as lack of spe­cific, peculiar to numerals only syntactic functions was the reason for dis­missing numerals as part of speech. The dismissal resulted in that numerals were treated as subgroups of nouns or adjectives, which is quite typical of Western linguists. Sometimes only cardinal numerals are treated as numer­als proper, while ordinal numerals are referred to adjectives, since they have no specific properties. It may be argued, however, that in this case research­ers completely neglect close ties between cardinals and ordinals, revealed both in their lexical meaning and in their derivation patterns. All in all, one can’t but notice that, thought the two types of numerals – cardinals as well as ordinals – may coincide syntactically with nouns and adjectives, still they share a specific lexical meaning.

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