Dave’s WW of EU: Cardinal Numbers

Cardinal Numbers are your standard numbers such as one, two, three, and four. They are used to show quantity, but not order. In other words, cardinal numbers are not first, second, third, and so on (ordinal numbers).

The way to remember the difference is that Ordinal Numbers show Order, Cardinal Numbers do not. I’ve also heard the phrase “You count Cardinals (as in the birds).” Whatever helps you remember is fine by me.

One thing I did learn about Cardinal Numbers that I did not know is that they are a type of Noun Determiner. A noun determiner is a word that signals that a noun is soon to follow. For example, when you see the phrase, “I have three…,” you know that a noun is going to follow that cardinal number: “I have three oranges,” for example. One thing to remember is that Cardinal Numbers are NOT always noun determiners, but they ALWAYS refer to a noun. Don’t believe me? Watch….

  • What time is it? Three. (The three refers to o’clock, which means “of the clock”)
  • How many oranges do you have? Three. (Three refers back to oranges.)
  • Choose a number, any number? Three. (Three refers back to the noun “number.”)

Granted, those are just three limited examples, but think about it long enough, and you’ll see that you cannot use a Cardinal Number that does not refer back to a noun and make sense. The only way you could is if you just randomly said a number. Not only would that not make sense, but you’d probably find that people would smile politely in your direction and then back away slowly.

What does it mean to me?

Honestly? Not much. It’s just one of those things that most people don’t think about but do perfectly without even trying. That alone makes it interesting and is one more evidence of the extreme complexity and brain power required to speak a language. It also explains why saying a random number without any context sounds… odd. It’s because your brain is searching for that noun.

On that note, I leave you with this wonderful message…

… forty-two.

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This entry was posted in Dave's Wonderful World of English Usage. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dave’s WW of EU: Cardinal Numbers

  1. DWH says:

    thank you for “the” answer!

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