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Sandra Iulia RONAI English Linguistics M.A.

, 2nd year

An Overview of the Latin Numeral System

0. Introduction
As the title transparently suggests, the present paper is intended as a (mostly descriptive) report on Latin numerals they types, morphological peculiarities, and syntactic behavior with respect to the nouns they may modify. However, besides taking a broader look at all the classes of numerals in Latin, I will be focusing on cardinals, which, besides being the most frequently used (or, in our case, found in the surviving corpus), are also the most interesting, from a syntactic point of view.

1. The system of Latin numerals

Latin grammars generally recognize four types of numerals, with a fifth class being sometimes added (Barbu&Vasilescu 1961) and sometimes omitted. The numerals we can identify in Latin are: cardinals, ordinals, distributives, numeral adverbs and, for some grammarians, multiplicatives. Cardinals are, like in the vast majority of languages, not homogeneous with respect to their morphology and their formation rules. Latin has simple lexical numerals, compound numerals formed by addition, compound numerals formed by subtraction, compound numerals formed by multiplication, and compound numerals formed by a combination of these strategies. I have included a table of all the Latin numerals (of all types) in the Appendix. Here is a summary of the morphological make-up of cardinals:

1 11

10: 17:

simple lexical numeral compound numerals formed by addition compound numerals formed by subtraction compound numeral formed by multiplication1

18, 19: 20:


Based on its synchronic usage in Classical Latin, the numeral for 20 may appear, at first glance, to be a simple lexical numeral. However, diachronically, viginti is a compound form, from vi/ui (probably a form dui) and ginti < gent < P.I.E. kmt/kemt, with the probable meaning of decade. Moreover, the same word (but in another



compound numerals formed by multiplication and addition compound numerals formed by multiplication and subtraction 90: compound numerals formed by multiplication 47 91 97: multiplication and addition multiplication and subtraction

28, 29: 30, 40 31

37, 41

38, 39, 48, 49 88, 89: 98: 99: 100: 200 1000: 900:

compound numeral formed by multiplication and addition compound numeral formed by multiplication and subtraction simple lexical numeral compound numerals formed by multiplication simple lexical numeral.

How does this compounding actually work, morphologically? For the numerals from 11 to 17, the smaller number (or a phonologically modified or reduced form of it) is immediately followed by the numeral decim, which is a phonologically reduced form of decem, ten. Even if the two numerals are merged together and pronounced as one word, the composing parts are still clearly distinguishable. Here are some examples:

10 11 14 15 17

decem undecim < unus+decem quattuordecim <quattuor+decem quindecim <quinque+decem septendecim <septem+decem

For 18 and 19, as well as from all the other numerals ending in 8 or 9 (with the exeption of 98) subtraction is accomplished by means of the preposition de, from, of, or, in this case, until:

20 19 18 38 49

viginti undeviginti < unus+de+viginti duodeviginti <duo+de+viginti duodequatraginta <duo+de+quatraginta undequinquaginta <unus+de+quinquaginta

variant, -ginta instead of -ginti) is used to form the numerals from 30 to 90, thus giving us sufficient reason to consider 20 a compound numeral on a par with the others signifying round tens.

Numerals denoting round tens (20, 30, 40 90) use multiplication as a compounding strategy: the word ginti/ginta (meaning ten or decade) is preceded by the numeral corresponding to the number of tens (or by a phonologically changed, but still recognizable, form of that numeral), without any other preposition:

30 70 80

triginta <tres+ginta septuaginta <septem+ginta octoginta <octo+ginta

The same type of multiplication is used for hundreds, for example:

200 300

ducenti <duo+centum trecenti <tres+centum

For numerals from 21 to 27, from 31 to 37 and so on (until 91-97), we have two different and competing strategies, both involving the addition of the smaller numeral to the bigger one. This can be done either by simple juxtaposition, with the number of tens followed by the smaller numeral, or by means of the regular copulative conjunction, when the order is reversed. Thus, we have:


viginti unus unus et viginti


viginti quinque quinque et viginti


quadraginta duo duo et quadraginta


sexaginta sex sex et sexaginta

It is worth noting that, in this case, the two compounding numerals remain two different words, and none of them is reduced phonologically. For larger numerals of three digits of more, the first strategy is the only one available, from the largest numeral (number of hundreds) to the number of tens and then the last single-digit numeral:


decenti quadraginta duo

2. An aside on numerals and writing

After explaining the compounding strategies for forming Latin cardinals, it is somehow disappointing to discover that this is not reflected in the system of Roman figures. More precisely, the same simple arithmetic operations of addition and subtraction are used in both systems, but the numbers these operations are applied to (in order to create compound numerals) are different. Here are some illustrative examples:


IV (subtraction) 1 5 5-1=4


quattuor (simple lexical numeral)


VI (addition) 5 1 5+1=6


sex (simple lexical numeral)



XVIII (addition) 10 5 1 1 1 10+5+1+1+1=18


duodeviginti (subtraction) two-from-twenty (20-2=18)



LXIX (addition and subtraction) 50 10 1 10 50+10+(10-1)=69


undeseptuaginta (subtraction) one-from-seventy (70-1=69)

If the written figures would have reflected the morphological composition of numeral, LXIX could have been pronounced quinquaginta undeviginti (50 19). Conversely, 18 would have been written down as IIXX, and 69 as IILXX. The fact that they are not reflects that the two systems functioned independently.

In other words, Latin uses ten as a numerical base (as in Kayne 2005), while the Roman writing system for figures seems to be using not only ten, but also three and five if not as additional numerical bases, at least as some kind of points of reference.

3. Cardinals morphology
The variation in compounding strategies is only the beginning of the interesting part, because, apart from it, there is also a variation in morphological and syntactic behavior. First of all, we can observe a split in the system, between the lower numerals from 1 to 3, and the higher numerals from 4 onwards. The first three numerals behave as full adjectives, displaying both gender and case agreement with the noun they modify (with case and gender being visible on both the numeral and the noun). 1 and 22 have a highly irregular (but complete) paradigm, while 3 has the forms of a regular adjective of class II:


Unus one-NOM.SG.M

equus horse-NOM.SG.M

fugit. run-IND.PAST.III.SG

One horse ran away.


Vidi see-IND.PAST.I.SG I saw one horse.

unum one-ASS.SG.M

equum. horse-ACC.SG.M


Duae two-NOM.PL.F

puellae girl-NOM.PL.F

fugerunt. run-IND.PAST.III.PL

Two girls ran away.


Vidi see-IND.PAST.I.SG I saw two girls.

duas two-ASS.PL.F

puellas. girl-ACC.PL.F


Equus horse-NOM.SG.M

duarum two-GEN.PL.F

puellarum girl-GEN.PL.F

fugit. run-IND.PAST.III.SG

The horse of the two girls ran away.


The paradigm for 2 (duo, duae, duo) is a mixture of plural and dual forms presumably, the numeral started out like a dual, but it was partially replaced with more common plural forms.







Three-ACC.PL.N temple-ACC.PL.N three-DAT.PL.F girl-DAT.PL.F show-IND.PAST.I.SG I showed the three girls the three temples.

Strangely enough, the numeral for 1 also has a set of plural forms. The apparent semantic contradiction is explained grammatically: these forms are only used to modify those defective nouns which only have a plural paradigm, but a singular meaning, like in the following examples:


Milites soldiers-NOM.PL.M

unorum one-GEN.PL.N




The soldiers of one army ran away.


Habitabant Live-IND.IMPERF.III.PL

in in

unis one-ABL.PL.N

aedibus. house-ABL.PL.N

The numerals from 43 onwards are invariable in Latin they modify a noun like an adjective, but do not agree with it. Compound numerals which include 1, 2 or 3 do not inflect either, the form remaining invariant regardless of gender and case. The numeral for 100, centum, is also invariant, but the other numerals denoting hundreds, surprisingly, do inflect and have full, regular paradigms like adjectives of the first class (with only the paradigm for the plural). 1000, mille, is another special case. In the singular, it is an indeclinable adjective but although it does not take any special case, gender or number forms, its accompanying noun will obligatorily have to be in the plural, for semantic reasons. However, when the numeral 1000 itself is in the plural, it is no longer an adjective, but behaves like a full noun. It inflects according to the relevant case in the sentence, and has forms for all the cases in the plural and, according to the case endings, we can identify it as a neuter form.

The numeral for 4 used to have a specific declension in Indo-European. (Barbu & Vasilescu 1961: 43) but it was lost in Latin. so from four cardinals with declension in Indo-European, we get to three in Latin, and only the first two in Romanian. From this we could (speculatively) infer a tendency of language to reduce the number of fully-adjectival numerals and replace them with invariant, non-inflecting forms.

The nounness of the numeral thousand in the plural is clear not only in the abstract usage (thousands of), but also in the compound forms representing several thousands which are necessarily accompanied in by the main noun in the Genitive plural case4.

4. Other types of numerals

Ordinal numerals do not pose any specific problems in Latin. All of them behave like full adjectives, and have complete (and regular) paradigms, inflectin in gender, number and case. The compound numerals which are made up of two or more separate words show agreement marking on all the component parts: the 121st horse the 121st girl

centesimus vicesimus primus equus centesima vicesima prima puella

The only other fact worth noting about Latin ordinal numerals is that, while all the rest are morphological cognates to the corresponding cardinal numerals, the first two in the series are not. Here, the paradigm provides suppletive forms (primus and secundus). Distributive numerals show how many objects or beings are in a bigger unit or how many accomplish a certain action at the same time (Barbu & Vasilescu 1961: 43). They behave like adjective, and have full, regular paradigms corresponding to that of first class adjectives. Adverbial numerals, on the other hand, are not declinable, and do not even modify a noun. As their name suggests, they are used as modifiers of a verb, showing how many times an action is achieved. Like in the case of the ordinals, the first two adverbial numerals (semel, once, and bis twice) are suppletive forms, while the rest are formed from the cardinals by suffixation. The last type of Latin numerals, which is not recognized as a distinct class by some grammars, includes the multiplicative numerals. They express how many times a quality or an action is increased, like in the example below:


cum duplex numerous avium Romulo se ostendisset. (Livy, A.U.C. I.8) since to Romulus a double number of birds appeared

I will be coming back to this usage of the plural Genitive with a numeral in section 5 of my paper.

The series of multiplicatives is not complete, and there are only a handful of such numerals (the whole list is the following: simplex - 1, duplex - 2, triplex - 3, quadruplex - 4, quintuplex - 5, septenplex - 7, decemplex - 10 and centumplex -100). Because of this, the grammars that do not acknowledge them as a separate class of numerals consider them to be isolated invariant adjectives. In any case, they modify a noun, but do not inflect to agree with it.

Back to cardinals syntax

In what remains, I would like to present a few more interesting facts about the syntactic behavior of cardinal numerals in Latin. So far, with the exception of a complex (but, to a point, systematic) heterogeneity in the process of word formation of compound numerals, Latin cardinals seem to be quite nice (or boring) for the inquisitive syntactician. They behave like (inflected or non-inflected) adjectives, they do not assign any specific case to their noun and there doesnt seem to be any major syntactic difference between higher and lower numerals. Moreover, because Latin does not grammatically express definiteness (or lack thereof) by means of an article, there are no problems related to the relation between that determiner, the cardinal and the noun. Therefore, if I had to choose a syntactic configuration to give a theoretical description of cardinals in Latin, I would opt for something along the lines of Corver & Zwarts 2006 or Giusti 1997, with cardinal occupying the specifier position of a (functional) projection situated in the external projection of the noun. This is the same position that Dogaru (2012) postulates for lower numerals in Romanian but, in the case of Latin, this analysis can well be extended to the complete series, with the exception of the thousands numerals mentioned above. Thus, both simple lexical numerals and compound ones would have to occupy the same position. More than that, compound cardinals made up of two or more separate words, with or without the copulative coordinating conjunction et, will also have to be placed in the same specifier position but since a specifier can hold a complex phrase, this is not a problem for the analysis, especially since, in contrast with the situation in Romanian, where the same analysis had to be stretched to incorporate different agreement facts (GALR 2005, cited in Dogaru 2012), Latin only offers one, invariant form, which does not enter any agreement relations:


douzeci i doi de elevi twenty and two-masc. pupils

/ douzeci i dou de eleve / twenty and two-fem. Pupils


viginti duo homines twenty two-masc. men

/ viginti duo puellae / twenty two-masc. girls.

duo et viginti homines two-masc. and twenty men

/ duo et viginti puellae / two-masc. and twenty girls

Therefore, for all cardinal numeral structures discussed so far (again, with the exception of thousands), we can built phrasal trees that would look approximately like this5:

octo puellae eight girls

duo et viginti puellae twenty-two girls

FP 3 CardP 2 Card 2 Card0 octo F0 F 2 NP 2 N 2 N0 puellae

FP 3 CardP 2 Card 2 Card0 CoordP duo 2 Coord 2 Coord0 CardP et 2 Card 2 Card0 viginti F 2 F0 NP 2 N 2 N0 puellae

I use FP, CoordP and CardP as conventional notations, without any strong theoretical claims.

Having proposed this uniform structure, we can finally turn our attention to the seemingly problematic milia, thousands, that we have mentioned above. It imposes a Genitive plural case on the noun it modifies and acts like a noun itself, without showing case agreement. On the contrary, when it is accompanied by another numeral (duo milia militum, two thousand solders), that preceding numeral acts like an adjective, taking the neuter gender of milia and showing case agreement. In other words, instead of having a compound numeral, we are dealing with a simple numeral modifying a fully-fledged noun. But what about the Genitive case of the main noun? Is it the only exception in an otherwise beautifully regular paradigm? The answer will have to be NO: it is simply part of another, equally regular series, that of noun + partitive Genitive configuration. Because, in parallel with their adjectival uses, all the Latin cardinals may also be used in partitive constructions (which are rarer than the adjectival ones, but still frequently attested Sluanschi 1994:103). Thus,

tres three-Nom

milites soldiers-Nom

tres three-Nom


Even if the partitive Genitive in Latin is syncretic and does not involve the use of any preposition (like the partitive Romanian Genitive with de), the underlying semantic motivation and the syntactic configuration are exactly the same in the two languages, namely, what Danon (2011, cited in Dogaru 2012) explains as the cardinal heading a recursive DP/NP structure, with the cardinal NP taking a partitive Genitive as its complement. While in Romanian this structure is used only for higher numerals, in Latin, this second model provides an alternative to the whole adjectival cardinal series. A further important argument in favor of the partitive analysis of these Genitives comes from the existence of another competing structure (very rare in Classical Republican Latin, but more frequent during and after the Imperial age), with an Ablative and a preposition, ex or de:

ducenti ex/de


two hundred of twenty soldiers


Our review so far described the Latin system of numerals as a rather systematic and (at least syntactically) uniform one. The main idea that I would like to underline is the existence of two (or even three) configurations for cardinals: the adjectival one, the partitive Genitive one, and the prepositional Ablative one. With the exeption of the cardinal for thousands (which can only appear in the second variant), all other cardinals in the series can enter all configurations what is a parameter in a language like Romanian is a matter of speaker (pragmatic?) choice or even free distribution in Latin. Furthermore, I believe that the comparative study of the analytic Romanian deGenitive and the syncretic Latin Genitive could, in the future, yield a promising ground for the analysis of partitivity as connected with numerals and numbering.

BARBU, N.I, VASILESCU, Toma. Gramatica limbii latine. Bucureti: Editura de Stat Didactic i Pedagogic, 1961

DEVINE, A.M, STEPHENS, Laurence D. Latin Word Order. Structured Meaning and Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006

ERNOUT, Alfred, Francois THOMAS. Syntaxe Latine. Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 1989

SLUANSCHI, Dan. Sintaxa limbii latine. Vol. I Sintaxa propoziiei, ediia a doua, revzut i adugit. Bucureti: Editura Universitii din Bucureti, 1994

TNASE-DOGARU, Mihaela. On two types of cardinal-noun constructions in Romanian. Leiden: Syntax Lab handout, March 2012