Numerals Made Easy: Adjectives, Nouns, and Adverbs Explained

Ever wondered what sets numbers and numerals apart? Understanding this difference helps us communicate more clearly, especially in mathematics and writing. So let’s dive in.

Numbers and numerals have a close relationship, but they carry different meanings.

What is a Numeral?

Number words (like one, two, three, etc.) are called numerals. They are the symbols or groups of symbols (the actual characters) we use to write or represent numbers. Numerals can be in different forms or systems, such as Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, and words. Examples:

♦ Arabic numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
♦ Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, etc.
♦ Words: one, two, three, four, etc.

What is a Number?

Numbers are abstract concepts that represent quantities, values, or positions. They are the ideas or values we use to count, measure, and label. But numbers are just ideas in our heads, no matter how they’re written or shown. Examples:

♦ The number 3 represents the concept of three items.
♦ The number 10 represents the concept of ten items.

Key Differences

So, what are the key differences?

Concept vs. Representation

A number is the idea or value, while a numeral is the way we write or symbolize that number.

Abstract vs. Concrete

Numbers are abstract (existing in thought), whereas numerals are concrete (the actual written symbols).

♦ The number 5 can be represented by the numeral 5 (Arabic numeral), V (Roman numeral), or the word five (word form).

So, what are the key differences? To sum it up, numbers are what we think about when we count or measure, and numerals are how we write those thoughts down.

Numerals and Different Parts of Speech

Numerals can act as different parts of speech in English: adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.

♦ There are seven days in the week. [Adjective.]
♦ Twelve make a dozen. [Noun.]
♦ I have called twice. [Adverb.]

Numerals as Adjectives

Adjectives describe or modify nouns. When numerals act as adjectives, they tell us how many of something there is.

♦ Three apples (three tells us the number of apples).
♦ Ten books (ten tells us the number of books).

Numerals as adjectives usually come before the noun they describe.

♦ I have two dogs.
♦ She needs five pencils.

Avoid saying I have two dogs and a cat. Instead, you can say I have two dogs and one cat to be clear.

Numerals as Nouns

Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, or idea. Numerals can act as nouns when they standalone and represent several things.

♦ The seven dwarfs (seven is the noun here, referring to the group of dwarfs).
♦ She gave a ten out of ten. (Ten is used as a noun to show a perfect score).

Numerals as nouns can be subjects or objects in a sentence.

♦ Five is my lucky number. (subject)
♦ She scored a perfect ten. (object)

Remember to make plural forms correctly. For example: There were threes and fours in the crowd means there were groups of threes and fours.

Numerals as Adverbs

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Numerals as adverbs show how many times something happens.

♦ She read twice. (Twice tells us how many times she read).
♦ He visited thrice. (Thrice tells us how many times he visited).

Numerals as adverbs usually come after the verb they modify.

♦ I called her twice.
♦ They met thrice last week.

Don’t confuse numerals used as adverbs with adjectives. For example: He visited three times (adverb) vs. He has three dogs (adjective).

Cardinal and Ordinal Numerals

The chief classes of numerals are cardinals and ordinals.

Cardinal Numeral Adjectives

We use cardinal numeral adjectives (one, two, three, four, etc.) for counting, and they answer the question How many?

♦ I had to pay three dollars.
♦ There were forty-two ships in the fleet.

In sentences like: The boy was sixteen, sixteen is a numeral acting as an adjective describing the boy. We don’t need to say sixteen years old because sixteen alone is clear enough.

Ordinal numeral adjectives (first, second, third, etc.) denote the position or order of a person or thing in a series.

♦ Akita plays the second violin.
♦ My mom is sitting in the fifth row.

Plural Nouns

Sometimes, you can treat cardinal and ordinal numbers as nouns and add -s if they mean more than one thing.

One is enough.
Four are missing.
♦ Three twos are six.
Thousands perished by the way.
♦ Eight is two thirds of twelve.

We originally used hundred, thousand, and million as nouns, but now they’re often used as adjectives too. Other numeral nouns include: couple, pair, brace, trio, quartet, quintet, foursome, dozen, score, and century.

Numeral Words

Certain numeral words function differently.

Certain Numeral Adjectives

Numeral words like single, double, triple, etc. Demonstrate the number of times something is taken or the number of parts it has.

♦ A double row of police officers stood on guard.
♦ A triple layer of chilled steel forms the door.

Sometimes these words work as adverbs.

♦ The cab driver charged double.
♦ His fear increased tenfold.

Numeral Adverbs and Adverbial Phrases

There are certain words that tell you how many times an action happens.

♦ Once my assailant slipped.
♦ I rang the bell twice.

The only adverbs people use for this are once and twice. For larger numbers, we use an adverbial phrase (three times, four times, etc.).

Thrice is actually still pretty common in poetry and formal writing.

General Rules

These rules can vary depending on the style guide (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) you are following, but here are some common conventions.

One Through Nine

Spell out numbers from one to nine. She has three cats.

Ten and Above

Use digits for numbers 10 and above. There are 15 students in the class.

Beginning of a Sentence

Always spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. Twenty students attended the lecture.

If rewriting the sentence to avoid starting with a number is possible, it’s often a good choice

There were 20 students at the lecture.

 Large Round Numbers

Use a combination of words and digits for large round numbers. 2 million people attended the event.

 Decimals and Fractions

Use digits for decimals and fractions. The recipe calls for 1.5 cups of sugar.

 Percentages

Use digits for percentages.  She scored 95% on the test.

Time

Use digits for times of day. The meeting starts at 3:00 PM.

Dates

Use digits for dates.  Her birthday is May 5, 2024.

Ages

Use digits for ages. He is 7 years old.

 Money

Use digits for monetary amounts. The book costs $15.

Exact Measurements

Use digits for exact measurements. The room is 12 feet wide.

Consistency

It is important that you are consistent with your choice of using words or digits within a sentence or paragraph.

Wrong: She bought eight apples and 12 oranges
Right: She bought eight apples and twelve oranges

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Exercises for Understanding Numerals

Take a moment to identify the numeral in each sentence and how it acts (noun, adverb, or adjective).

  1. She has three cats.
  2. They found seven shells on the beach.
  3. The group consisted of five.
  4. He ran five miles this morning.
  5. The book has twenty chapters.
  6. She finished the race in first place.
  7. There are twelve months in a year.
  8. They bought a dozen donuts.
  9. He has been to that city three times.
  10. Four people were absent today.
  11. She gave me two apples.
  12. We saw five movies last week.
  13. Seven is my lucky number.
  14. He can lift fifty pounds easily.
  15. They travelled across three countries.
  16. She read the book twice.
  17. He arrived first in the competition.
  18. He scored a perfect ten
  19. I bought ten pencils.
  20. She visited her grandparents three times this month.
Click on the + button for the answers
  1. She has three cats. (adjective)
  2. They found seven shells on the beach. (adjective)
  3. The group consisted of five. (noun)
  4. He ran five miles this morning. (adjective)
  5. The book has twenty chapters. (adjective)
  6. She finished the race in first place. (adjective)
  7. There are twelve months in a year. (adjective)
  8. They bought a dozen donuts. (adjective)
  9. He has been to that city three times. (adverb)
  10. Four people were absent today. (adjective)
  11. She gave me two apples. (adjective)
  12. We saw five movies last week. (adjective)
  13. Seven is my lucky number. (noun)
  14. He can lift fifty pounds easily. (adjective)
  15. They travelled across three countries. (adjective)
  16. She read the book twice. (adverb)
  17. He arrived first in the competition. (adjective)
  18. He scored a perfect ten. (noun)
  19. I bought ten pencils. (adjective)
  20. She visited her grandparents three times this month. (adverb)

Ten Tips for Understanding Numerals

1. Know the Difference: Understand the difference between numbers (abstract concepts) and numerals (symbols or words that represent numbers).
2. Consistency: Be consistent with your numeral format throughout your writing. Choose either words or digits and stick with it.
3. Small and Big Numbers: Generally, write out numbers one through nine in words and use digits for 10 and above, unless otherwise specified by a style guide like APA or Chicago Manual of Style. For large numbers, use a combination of numerals and words for clarity

4. Sentence Start: Always spell out numerals at the beginning of a sentence (e.g., Thirty students attended the lecture).
5. Age: Use numerals for ages,
6. Percentages: Use digits for percentages and include the percent sign.
7. Currency: Use digits for amounts of money and include the currency symbol.
8. Decimals and Fractions: Use digits for precise measurements, decimals, and fractions.
9. Dates: Use digits for dates.
10. Time: Use digits for time, especially when including minutes

Last Words on Understanding Numerals

We’ve learned that numerals can be adjectives, nouns, or adverbs. Knowing how to use them correctly helps us write better and make our points clearer.

Happy writing!

Linda

 

Feature Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay.

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