numerals and plural marking

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Nov 10 10:50:52 UTC 1998

Aldai wrote:

> Can somebody say whether for any of the languages where "number marking is
> restricted to a specifiable subset of plural-referent nouns" (other
> than Basque): Hungarian, Welsh, Aymara?, Hawaiian, Yukaghir, Mari
> (Cheremis), there is a different translation for:
>         (1) three musketeers
>         (2) the three musketeers
> If so, does the equivalent of (2) show number marking?

Hebrew provides a (somewhat limited) example of what Aldai is looking for.
In general, numerals greater than one require the associated noun to be
marked as plural, but there is one exception:  if the numeral is a "round
number" (10, 20, etc.), number marking is optional:

(1) (a) 9esrim iS
        twenty man
    (b) 9esrim anaSim
        twenty men

(The singular construction in (1a) is stylistically marked.)  But when the NP
is definite, the singular construction is no longer available:

(2) (a)*9esrim haiS
        twenty DEF-man
    (b) 9esrim haanaSim
        twenty DEF-men

The contrast between (2a) and (2b) conforms to the general principle, which
is what I assume motivated Aldai's query, that number marking tends to occur
more often in definite NPs than in indefinite ones.

It should be noted, however, that in more colloquial registers of Hebrew, the
structure of the NP is undergoing radical analysis -- and one of the
consequences of this is that the above contrast is lost:

(3) (a) ha9esrim iS
        DEF-twenty man
    (b) ha9esrim anaSim
        DEF-twenty men

Thus, in colloquial Hebrew, the definite marker ha- is phrase initial; and
when this is the case, either singular or plural noun is possible.


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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