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Show full table of contents phrases containing a cardinal numeral

This section discusses noun phrases containing a cardinal numeral. Subsection I starts with a discussion of the properties of the head noun. This is followed in Subsection II by a brief discussion of determiners in noun phrases containing a cardinal numeral. Subsection III concludes with a discussion of the position of the cardinal numerals within the noun phrase.

[+]  I.  The head noun

The examples in (19) show that the cardinal numerals, with the exception of één'one', are normally followed by a plural count noun.

Example 19
a. één boek/*boeken
  one  book/books
c. honderd boeken/*boek
  a.hundred  books/book
b. twee boeken/*boek
  two  books/book
d. honderd en één boeken/*boek
  hundred and one  books/book

The generalization that cardinal numerals are normally followed by a plural noun also holds for the numeral nul'zero'; cf. Haeseryn (1997:432). The examples in (20) show that, in this respect, it differs from the negative article geen'no', which can be followed either by a plural or a singular noun.

Example 20
a. nul/geen boeken
  zero/no  books
b. geen/*nul boek
  no/zero  book

Section, sub IA, argues that the fact that geen'no' can be followed by a plural or a singular noun is related to the fact that the negation expressed by geen takes sentential scope: the primed examples in (21) can be seen as the denial of the propositions expressed by the primeless examples. Observe that if there is no presupposition concerning the actual cardinality of the set of children, the (a)-example will be used.

Example 21
a. Er loopt een kind op straat.
  there  walks  a child  in the street
  'There is a child walking in the street.'
a'. Er loopt geen kind op straat.
  there  walks  no child  in the.street
b. Er lopen kinderen op straat.
  there  walk  children  in the street
  'There are children walking in the street.'
b'. Er lopen geen kinderen op straat.
  there  walk  no  children in the.street

The fact that the cardinal nul'zero' is never followed by a singular noun can perhaps be accounted for if we assume that it differs from geen'no' in that it expresses constituent (and not sentential) negation. In that case, we may assign nul kinderen the meaning not (one or more children) and thus expect it to impose the same selection restriction as the complex numeral één of meer, which cannot be followed by a singular noun either. We leave it to future research to investigate whether this line of reasoning is feasible.

Example 22
één of meer boeken/*boek
  one or more  books/book
'one or more books.'

Although it is generally descriptively correct, there are also a number of exceptions to the general rule that cardinal numerals are followed by a plural noun. We will discuss these in the remainder of this subsection.

[+]  A.  Substance nouns

The primeless cases in (23) show that substance nouns may follow a numeral if they refer to conventional units of the substance denoted by the noun. One might wish to explore the possibility that these noun phrases are actually binominal constructions involving an empty noun corresponding to the container noun in the primed examples; cf. the discussion of example (60) in Section, sub III.

Example 23
a. drie koffie
  three  coffee
  'three, e.g., cups of coffee.'
a'. drie koppen koffie
  three  cups [of]  coffee
  'three cups of coffee'
b. twee suiker
  two  sugar
  'two, e.g., packs/lumps of sugar'
b'. twee klontjes/pakken suiker
  two  lumps/packs [of]  sugar
  'two packs/lumps of sugar'

There is, however, a conspicuous difference between the primeless and primed examples, which suggests that a binominal analysis of the primeless examples in (23) is not feasible; the examples in (24) show that the two nominal constructions differ in number, the noun phrase drie koffie triggers singular agreement on the finite verb in (24a), whereas the binominal construction drie koppen koffie triggers plural agreement. Note further that the examples in (24) show that it is the number of the head noun that determines subject-verb agreement, and not the numeral.

Example 24
a. Er staat/*?staan drie koffie op de tafel.
  there  stands/stand  three coffee  on the table
b. Er staan/*staat drie koppen koffie op de tafel.
  there  stand/stands  three cups [of] coffee  on the table
[+]  B.  Measure nouns

Another exception to the general pattern is that nouns referring to conventional measure units may appear in their singular form. The following three subsections discuss three different subcases.

[+]  1.  Measure nouns in binominal construction.

A first group of measure nouns are those that may appear in a binominal construction. Example (25) shows that these nouns often have the option of appearing either in the singular or in the plural form; cf. Section 4.1.1 for additional discussion. The difference between the primeless and primed examples is that in the former, the speaker is referring to a total amount of three meters/liters/kilos of the substance denoted by the second noun, whereas in the latter case the speaker is referring to three units of the substance denoted by the second noun of one meter/liter/kilo each.

Example 25
a. drie meter draad
  three  meter [of]  thread
a'. drie meters draad
  three  meters [of]  thread
b. drie liter wijn
  three  liter [of]  wine
b'. drie liters wijn
  three  liters [of]  wine
c. drie kilo suiker
  three  kilo [of]  sugar
c'. drie kiloʼs suiker
  three  kilos [of]  sugar

If the noun following the numeral refers to a certain quantity itself, it is preferably singular. Examples involve nouns like dozijn'dozen', gros'gross', miljoen'million', miljard'billion', etc.; see Section for the nominal status of the latter two forms.

Example 26
a. twee dozijn/*?dozijnen knikkers
  two  dozen/dozens [of]  marbles
b. twee gros/*grossen knikkers
  two  gross/grosses  marbles
c. twee miljoen/*miljoenen knikkers
  two  million/millions  marbles

The examples in (27) show that in these cases also it is the number of the noun, and not the cardinal numeral, that triggers subject-verb agreement, which is of course related to the earlier observation that the speaker is referring to a total amount of three meters of thread in (27a), but to three threads of one meter each in (27b); cf. the discussion of (25).

Example 27
a. Er ligt/*liggen nog drie meter draad op de plank.
  there  lies/lie  still  three meter [of] thread  on the shelf
b. Er liggen/*ligt nog drie meters draad op de plank.
  there  lie/lies  still  three meters [of] thread  on the shelf
[+]  2.  Measure nouns denoting time units

The situation is somewhat more complex if the measure noun denotes a certain time interval. It seems a totally idiosyncratic matter whether a numeral can or cannot be followed by a singular noun: the nouns seconde'second', kwartier'quarter of an hour', uur'hour' and jaar'year' in (28) seems to prefer the singular form (which of course cannot be heard in the case of seconde(n)'second(s)', where the plural -n is mute in spoken language). The plural forms are marginally acceptable if the temporal noun phrases refer to discrete entities, that is, discrete time units; cf. the discussion of (31) below.

Example 28
a. Je moet de staaf vier seconde/?seconden in de vloeistof houden.
  you  must  the bar  four second/seconds  in the liquid  keep
  'You must keep the bar in the liquid for four seconds.'
b. Ik zit al drie kwartier/??kwartieren op je te wachten.
  sit  already  three quarter/quarters  for you  to wait
  'Iʼve already been waiting for you for three quarters of an hour.'
c. Ik zit al drie uur/?uren op je te wachten.
  sit  already  three hour/hours  for you  to wait
  'Iʼve already been waiting for you for three hours.'
d. Ik ben drie jaar/??jaren weg geweest.
  am  three year/years  away  been

The nouns minuut'minute', dag'day', week'week' in (29), on the other hand, clearly prefer the plural form, the singular forms yielding questionable results at best. For many speakers the same thing holds for the noun maand'month', although there are varieties of Dutch that also accept the singular form.

Example 29
a. Ik heb het ei vier minuten/*minuut gekookt.
  have  the egg  four minutes/minute  boiled
  'Iʼve boiled the egg for four minutes.'
b. Ik ben drie dagen/*dag weg geweest.
  am  three days/day  away  been
  'Iʼve been away for three days.'
c. Ik ben drie weken/*week weg geweest.
  am  three weeks/week  away  been
d. Ik ben drie maanden/%maand weg geweest.
  am  three months/month  away  been

A remarkable property of the temporal noun phrases in (28) and (29) is that they always trigger singular agreement on the verb if they are used as a subject of a copular construction (which suggests that we are dealing with second-order predication). So, both (30a) with the singular noun kwartier'quarter' and (30b) with the plural noun weken'weeks' trigger singular agreement on the verb zijn'to be'. This remarkable fact can possibly be accounted for by appealing to the fact that the noun phrases refer to a singular time interval.

Example 30
a. Drie kwartier is/*zijn wel erg lang voor een lezing.
  three quarter  is/are  prt.  very long  for a talk
b. Drie weken is/*zijn wel erg lang voor een vakantie.
  three weeks  is/are  prt.  very long  for a holiday

      Note that the nouns in (28) can also appear in their plural form if the noun is modified by means of an attributive adjective. In these cases the noun phrases no longer refer to a continuous time interval; as with the nouns in the primed examples in (25), the temporal noun phrases seem to refer to discrete entities, that is, discrete time units. This also accounts for the fact that these noun phrases trigger plural agreement on the finite verb, as is shown in (31c).

Example 31
a. de drie beslissende seconden/*seconde
  the  three  decisive  seconds/second
b. de drie langste uren/*uur van mijn leven
  the  three  longest  hours/hour  of my life
c. de drie gelukkigste jaren/*jaar van mijn leven zijn/*is voorbij
  the  three  happiest  years/year  of my life  are/is  past

      Example (32a) shows that a numeral can also be followed by the singular noun uur in noun phrases that refer to certain times of the day. A similar function is performed by proper nouns referring to certain months in noun phrases that specify certain days of the year; note that (32b) alternates with the construction in (32b') which involves an ordinal numeral.

Example 32
a. zes uur
  six  oʼclock
b. elf september 1973
  eleven  September  1973
b'. de elfde september van het jaar 1973
  the  eleventh  September  of the year 1973
[+]  3.  Measure nouns denoting monetary units

If the noun refers to a certain monetary unit, like the dollar or the euro, the noun is normally singular. The same thing holds for the noun cent, which refers to the smaller unit in which prices are expressed; cf. dit boek kost vierentwintig euro en veertig cent'This book costs twenty four euros and forty cents'. Examples are given in (33).

Example 33
a. Dit boek kost twintig euro/*euroʼs.
  this book  costs  twenty  euro/euros
b. Deze pen kost vijftig cent/*centen.
  this pen  costs  fifty  cent/cents

Nouns referring to certain coins or bank notes, on the other hand, are normally in the plural. Examples of these nouns are given in (34). Note that knaak in (34b) refers to coin that was in use when the guilder was still the monetary unit in the Netherlands; it seems that there are still no well-established names for the coins that are currently in use, apart, of course, from euro and cent.

Example 34
a. Dit boek kost twee tientjes/*tientje.
  this book  costs  two tenners/tenner
b. Deze pen kost twee knaken/??knaak.
  this pen  costs  two quarters/quarter

The fact that the noun in (34a) is obligatorily plural is probably related to the fact that we are dealing with a noun derived from a numeral by means of a diminutive suffix, given that the examples in (35) show that the diminutive counterparts of the nouns in (33) also require the plural ending. Still, this cannot be the whole story given that the noun knaak in (34b) is not a diminutive form.

Example 35
a. Dit boek kost twintig eurootjes/*eurootje.
  this book  costs  twenty  euros/euro
b. Deze pen kost vijftig centjes/*centje.
  this pen  costs  fifty  cents/cent

      The plural forms of euro and cent can also be used provided that they refer to the actual coins. So whereas the noun phrase twintig euro in (36a) refers to a collection of banknotes and/or coins that make up a total amount of twenty euros, the noun phrase twintig euroʼs in (36b) refers to a set of one euro coins with the cardinality 20. The primed examples show that, again in these cases, it is the number on the noun, and not the cardinal numeral, that determines subject-verb agreement. This is illustrated in the primed examples.

Example 36
a. Jan heeft nog twintig euro in zijn portemonnee.
  Jan has  still  twenty euro  in his wallet
a'. Er ligt/*liggen twintig euro op tafel.
  there  lies/lie  twenty euro  on the.table
b. Jan heeft nog twintig euroʼs in zijn portemonnee.
  Jan has  still  twenty euros  in his wallet
b'. Er liggen/*ligt twintig euroʼs op tafel.
  there  lie/lies  twenty euros  on the.table
[+]  C.  Other cases

In addition to the cases discussed above there are some more isolated cases in which the noun following the cardinal numeral is singular. Some examples are given in (37). Observe that (37b) shows that in this case the number on the noun also determines subject-verb agreement.

Example 37
a. Ik heb dat boek drie keer/?keren gelezen.
  have  that book  three time/times  read
  'Iʼve read that book three times.'
b. Vier man is genoeg om die tafel op te tillen.
  four man  is enough  in.order.to  that table  prt.  to lift
  'Four persons suffice to lift that table.'

It seems that sequences consisting of a numeral and a singular noun are normally not preceded by a determiner, unless the noun phrase is modified and/or strongly D-linked. Note that these cases differ from the ones in (37) in that they trigger plural agreement on the finite verb if the noun phrase functions as subject, as in the (b)-examples.

Example 38
a. Pff, die drie keer dat hij drugs gebruikt heeft.
  well,  that three time  that  he  drugs used  has
  'Phff, those three times that he has used drugs.'
a'. De drie keer dat ik daar geweest ben, was het erg stil.
  the three time  that  there  been  am,  was  it  very quiet
  'It was very quiet the three times that I have been there.'
b. Die vier man daar zijn genoeg om die tafel op te tillen.
  those four man  over there  are  enough  in.order.to  that table  prt.  to lift
  'Those four persons suffice to lift that table.'
b'. De vier man, die de tafel op getild hadden, kregen een biertje.
  the four man,  who  the table  prt.-lifted  had,  received a beer
  'The four men, who had lifted the table, were given a beer.'
[+]  II.  The determiner

There do not seem to be many special restrictions on the determiner preceding the cardinal numeral. As is shown in (39a-c), definite articles, demonstratives and possessive pronouns all give rise to an equally acceptable result. If the noun phrase is indefinite, as in (39d), we might postulate the empty indefinite article ∅, just as in the case of other plural indefinite noun phrases.

Example 39
a. de vier boeken over taalkunde
  the  four  books  about linguistics
b. die vier boeken over taalkunde
  those  four books  about linguistics
c. mijn vier boeken over taalkunde
  my  four books  about linguistics
d. ∅ vier boeken over taalkunde
  ∅ four books  about linguistics

      The indefinite article een'a' cannot be combined with a numeral, which is of course related to the fact that noun phrases containing this article are inherently singular: adding the numeral één'one' is therefore redundant, and adding some other numeral leads to a contradiction. In Subsection III, we will see that the complex demonstrative zoʼn'such a', which is the result of contraction of zo and een, cannot be followed by a numeral either.

Example 40
* een één/vier boek over taalkunde
  one/four book  about linguistics

      Example (41a) shows that the cardinal numeral één'one' is special in that it can never be preceded by the definite article de/het, or a demonstrative or possessive pronoun. It is, however, generally assumed that the numeral één may appear after a demonstrative pronoun if it is inflected; example (41b), taken from Haeseryn et al. (1997), clearly seems to demonstrate this. It should be noted, however, that inflected ene also appears in other environments with a more deictic meaning, in which case it is in opposition to andere'other'. The examples in (41c) illustrate this. It might therefore be premature to decide on the basis of meaning alone that ene is a cardinal numeral in (41b). Before we can do that, we should first make a comparison of the two uses of ene in (41b) and (41c). We will leave this for future research.

Example 41
a. * het/dat/mijn één boek
  the/that/my  one book
b. Zelfs dat ene boek vond hij al te veel.
  even  that  one  book  considered  he  already  too much
  'He already considered that one book too much.'
c. Het/dat/mijn ene boek vond hij erg goed, het/dat/mijn andere niet.
  the/that/my  one  book  considered  he  very good  the/that/my other  not
  'Of the/those/my (two) books he considered one very good, but the other not.'
[+]  III.  The position of the cardinal numeral within the noun phrase

As we discussed in the introduction to this chapter, numerals (and quantifiers) can be assumed to be generated in the position NUM in the structure in (42a). This predicts that numerals generally follow the determiners and precede those elements that are part of the NP-domain, that is, the head noun itself and the attributive modifiers, as in (42b). These predictions seem to be borne out; example (42c) shows that the numeral cannot precede the definite article, and example (42d) that it must precede the attributive modifiers of the head noun.

Example 42
a. [DP D [NumP NUM [NP ... N ...]]]
b. de acht gele rozen
  the  eight  yellow  roses
c. * acht de gele rozen
d. * de gele acht rozen

More must be said about the order in (42d), however, since the result is acceptable if the attributive adjective is assigned contrastive accent, as in (43a). This is possible if domain D contains various bouquets, consisting of eight roses each: (43a) can then be used to distinguish the yellow bouquet from the bouquets containing roses of another color. The fact that this order of the numeral and the attributive modifier requires that the roses be part of domain D correctly predicts that this order cannot be found in indefinite noun phrases like (43a'). In (43b&b'), we give some comparable examples taken from the literature: again, the marked order requires the referents of the noun phrase to be part of domain D, so that the indefinite noun phrase in (43b') yields an infelicitous result.

Example 43
a. de gele acht rozen
  the  yellow  eight  roses
b. die leuke vier dochters van hem
  those  nice  four daughters  of his
a'. * gele acht rozen
b'. * leuke vier dochters van hem

      The ungrammatical example in (42c) cannot be saved by assigning it a special intonation pattern: cardinal numerals never precede the definite article. The same thing holds for the D-linked demonstrative and possessive pronouns in (44). Note in passing that the primed examples are acceptable if the numeral is preceded by alle'all'; this will be discussed in Section

Example 44
a. die drie boeken
  those  three  books
b. zijn vier dochters
  his  four  daughters
a'. * drie die boeken
b'. * vier zijn dochters

      Haeseryn et al. (1997) have claimed that the non-D-linked demonstrative pronouns zoʼn and zulke behave differently. The primeless examples in (45) show that these demonstratives cannot be followed by a numeral: for (45a), this does not come as a big surprise, of course, since we saw in (40) above that the article een'a', which acts here as part of the complex determiner zoʼn'such a', cannot be combined with a cardinal numeral either; for (45b), on the other hand, no such explanation seems available. The data become even more mysterious when we consider the primed examples, which are certainly better than the primeless ones. Although some speakers of Dutch reject examples such as (45b'), the fact that these examples are considered fully acceptable by at least some speakers pose a problem for the assumption that the non-D-linked demonstratives are situated in the D-position of (42a), and suggest that they are actually lower in the nominal projection than the cardinal numerals.

Example 45
a. * zoʼn één boek
  such a  one  book
a'. Eén zoʼn boek maakt alles goed.
  one such a book  makes  everything  well
  'One book like that makes everything well.'
b. * zulke drie boeken
  such  three  books
b'. % drie zulke boeken maken alles goed
  three such a book  makes  everything  well
  'Three book like that makes everything well.'
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff