• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
Cardinal numerals

Cardinal numerals are used for counting. They are productively formed on the basis of fourteen free morphemes (een 1,twee 2, drie 3,vier 4, vijf 5, zes 6, zeven 7,acht 8, negen 9, tien 10, elf 11, twaalf 12, honderd 100, duizend thousand) and a few bound morphemes (-tig -ty, -en- and, -oen -on, -ard -ard, milj- mill-, bilj- bill-). nul null, zero, nought is rarely found in complex numerals.

The numeral twee 2 has an allomorphtwin- in twintig 20, for drie 3 there is der- in dertien 13 and dertig 30, for vier 4 there is veer- in veertien 14 and veertig 40, and for acht 8 there is tacht- in tachtig 80. The bound morphemes-oen -on and -ard -ard are used with milj- mill-, etc. to build internationalisms like miljoen 10 to the power of 6, miljard 10 to the power of 9 and biljoen 10 to the power of 12.

Morphemes are combined by something that looks like compounding but with a different semantics: it is not intersective but sometimes additive (zes-tien = 6+10) and multiplicative at other times (zes-honderd = 6 times 100).

The element en looks exactly like coordinating en and but it has a different, additive semantics ('+'): twee-en-dertig 2+30 32, honderd(en)zes 100+6 106. The suffx -tig (pronounced /təχ/) is like English -ty (as in forty 40) and German -zig (as in vierzig 40) in that it is etymologically related to -tien, -ten, -zehn and makes names for powers of ten.

Table 1
cardinal numbers
13 der-tien
14 veer-tien
15 vijf-tien
20 twin-tig
21 [een-en-[twin-tig]]
30 der-tig
32 [twee-en-[der-tig]]
43 [drie-en-[veer-tig]]
54 [vier-en-[vijf-tig]]
65 [vijf-en-[zes-tig]]
76 [zes-en-[zeven-tig]]
87 [zeven-en-[tach-tig]]
98 [acht-en-[negen-tig]]
151 honderd-[een-en-[vijf-tig]]
287 twee-honderd-[zeven-en-[tach-tig]]
14243 ([[[4+10]*1000]]+[[[2*[honderd]]+[3+[4*10]]]) [[[veer-tien]-duizend]-[[[twee]-[honderd]]-[[drie]-[en]-[[veer]-[tig]]]]]
88391547 ([8+[8*10]*1000000] + [[[3*100]+[1+90]]*1000] + [[5*100]+[7+[4*10]]]) achtentachtig miljoen driehonderdeenennegentigduizend vijfhonderdzevenenveertig

Cardinal numerals can be used attributively as in ik koop drie boeken I buy three books, and predicatively, as in ik ben dertig I am thirty (years old).

[+]General information

Some numerals can be pronounced in more than one way: 1421 may be duizend vierhonderd eenentwintig 1000 400 21 or viertienhonderd eenentwintig 1400 21. There are geographical differences: the first variant is found more in the South. If the numeral refers to a date, there is a third possibility, as hundred can be left implicit: viertien eenentwintig 14 21 (cf. Pollmann (1998)).

[hide extra information]

According to Booij (2010: 166), "the feature that distinguishes Dutch (and German) from English, French and many other European languages is that for numbers between 21 and 99, the ones come before the tens. The two numbers are obligatorily connected by en and which is not pronounced as [en], the phonetic form when used as a conjunction, but as [ən]. In numbers above 100, the connective en is optional, and is always pronounced as [en]. What we see then in the pattern for the numbers 21-99 is a morphologization of an original syntactic pattern of coordination, with a concomitant phonetic weakening of the full vowel of the conjunction en into schwa, the typical vowel of grammatical morphemes. In numbers above 100, the pattern is formally (including phonetically) still identical to that of syntactic coordination, but such numeral expressions are felt and written as one word. Hence, we consider this pattern also to be a morphological construction that originated through the morphologization of a syntactic construction. This is confirmed by the fact that the main stress of such numerals is located on the last constituent (for example, honderd(en)éen 101), whereas there are equal stresses on the parts of a syntactic coordination." The generalization that between 21 and 99, en is always pronounced with schwa is disputed by Marc van Oostendorp (Neder-L).

The initial /t/ in tachtig t-acht-ig 80 (< acht 8) is usually traced back to a historical prefix related to honderd 100; it is also postulated to explain the possibility of a voiceless pronunciation of the initial consonant in zestig 60 and zeventig 70.

[+]Cardinal numerals beyond 12

In numerals between 12 and 20, the word order is low-high, the semantics is additive: vijftien 5 +10. In the names of the units of 10, the order is stem-tig. If we assume that tig means '10', the semantics is multiplicative: zes-tig 6*10. Between 21 and 99, the structure is small-en-large, the semantics is additive: drie en zestig 3+60. In units of 100, 1000 and higher, the order is small before large, the semantics is multiplicative: driehonderd 3*100, zesduizend 6*1000, vierendertigmiljoen 34*1000000. Complex numerals larger than 100 are built from the building blocks just described: driehonderddrieenzestig (3*100)+(3+60). The parsing and pronunciation of really big numerals is a skill taught in school: a string such as 345678910111213 is first parsed from last to first into triples 345.678.910.111.213; the last triple denotes units, the penultimate thousands, the antepenultimate millions, etcetera, yielding driehonderdvijfenveertig biljoen zeshonderdachtenzeventig miljard negenhonderdtien miljoen honderdelf duizend twee honderd en dertien(Brandt Corstius 1965).

[hide extra information]

Other arguments can be provided that in numeral formation we are not dealing with normal coordination: firstly, inflection attaches only to the rightmost part in verbs like eenentwintigen 21-en (a card game), (not *enen en twintigen), constructions like we zijn met zijn eenentwintigen we are with his 21-en we are a group of 21 (not *we zijn met zijn enen en twintigen), een vijfentwintigje a [5+20]-DIM 25 guilders bill, etc. Secondly, the rigorous word order in numerals: next to vierentwintig 4+20 we do not have *twintig(en)vier 20-4 as a possible (grammatical) numeral (although it can always get a default interpretation as a standard coordination, but that also holds for vierentwintig).

[+]Special cardinal numerals and morphological and syntactic possibilities

Besides the regular cardinal numerals, there is a small number of irregular cardinal numerals with an indefinite meaning: veel many, much, weinig few, etc. Given our semantic definition of the numerals, these would belong to this category. Veel and weinig are morphologically unlike the normal cardinals in that they have (suppletive) comparatives and superlatives (veel, meer, meest many/much, more, most, weinig, minder, minst few, less, least) but do not function as basis for ordinal numeral formation.

[hide extra information]

Dutch (and other Germanic languages such as English and German) have fewer numerical atoms than, for example, French where the series continues after douze 12 with treize quatorze quinze seize 13 14 15 16, to become compositional only with dix-sept 10 7 seventeen.

In compound cardinal numerals below 100, there is a word order difference between Dutch (and German) on the one hand and English and Romance languages on the other: in Dutch and German, the system is systematically low-high: negentien, neunzehn 19, eenentwintig, einundzwanzig 21, in English the order is reversed in compounds larger than 20: nineteen vs. twenty-one, in French from dix-sept 10+7 seventeen onwards.

Van Katwijk (1968) observes that the grammar of Dutch numeral names overgenerates in the sense that many speakers accept number names such as tweeduizend achttienhonderd two thousand eighteen hundred which have no reasonable interpretation.

The suffix -tig can be used (just like German -zig) as an indefinite numeral to denote a contextually large number, but then it is pronounced with a full vowel /tɪχ/): d'r zijn ook tig dingen waar jij beter in bent dan hij there are also umpteen things where you better in are than he there's also a lot of things which you are better at.

The indefinite cardinal numeral veel many, much is the basis for an interrogative quantifier hoeveel how many, how much, which has a corresponding ordinal numeral hoeveelste howmanyeth: de hoeveelste is het vandaag? the howmanyeth is it today what is the date?.

Morphological potential of cardinal numerals: ordinal numbers are formed regularly on the basis of cardinals, by means of a suffix (vier-de four-th), see here. Cardinals and ordinals together are the building blocks for fractions (drievierde three fourth) see here. Cardinals can also be used as names for ranks, scores, banknotes etc. (ik had een tien I had a ten I had the highest score) and then they behave like nouns, with the possibility of diminutive formation, pluralization etc. (twee tientjes en een vijfje two ten-DIM-s and a five-DIM-s two tenners and a fiver). Cardinal numerals occur as the lefthand part of compounds: eenkamerwoning one-room-housing room flat, tweestrijd two-struggle struggle, duel, driehoek three-corner triangle, vierkant four-side square, zevenblad seven-leaf ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria , duizendpoot thousand-paw centipede, and they can be input to derivation; the results are mostly nouns:

Table 2
affix examples
-heid (N) eenheid one-SUFF unit, hoeveelheid how-many-SUFF quantity, minderheid less-SUFF minority, drie-eenheid three-one-SUFF trinity
-ling (N) eenling one-SUFF singleton, solitary person, tweeling two-SUFF twin, meerling more-SUFF multiple
-tal (N) tweetal two-SUFF duo, drietal three-SUFF triple
-voud (N) eenvoud one-fold simplicity, veelvoud many-fold multitude, drievoud three-fold triple
ge...en (Adv) getweeën PRE-two-SUFF the two of them, gevieren PRE-vier-SUFF the four of them

Finally, cardinal numerals occur in a number of constructions in which they appear to show some kind of morphological marking: na vijven after five-en after five, met ons drietjes with our three-DIM-s the three of us, see here.

  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Brandt Corstius, Hugo1965Automatic translation of numbers into DutchFoundations of Language159-62
  • Katwijk, Ab van1968A Functional Grammar of Dutch Number NamesBrandt Corstius, H. (ed.)Grammars for number namesFoundations of Language. Supplementary series7Reidel
  • Pollmann, Thijs1998Over de uitspraak van numerieke taaltekens, speciaal die van jaartallenNederlandse Taalkunde3120-130