The morphology of complex numerals: A cross-linguistic study

Lukáš Žoha

Masaryk University, Brno , Czechia

Marcin Wągiel

Masaryk University, Brno , Czechia & University of Wrocław , Poland

Pavel Caha

Masaryk University, Brno , Czechia


Complex numerals are numerals composed of two or more numeral roots, e.g., three hundred five. Complex numerals fall into two classes called additive (e.g., twenty-three = 20 + 3) and multiplicative (e.g., three hundred = 3 × 100). There are two possible approaches to capturing their structure. Analysis A (e.g., He 2015) says that complex numerals form a constituent that quantifies over entities denoted by the noun. Analysis B (e.g., Ionin and Matushansky 2018) says that each numeral independently combines with the expression denoting counted entities. This article investigates the morphology of complex numerals in a sample of 17 diverse languages to determine which of these analyses (if any) is more accurate. Our goal is to lay out the patterns and discuss how well they fit with these theories. Our preliminary conclusion is that both structures should be allowed based on the data in our sample, though structures adhering to Analysis A (the complex numeral is a constituent) seem to be more common than the other type.


complex numerals, counting, morphology, syntax, linguistic typology

Almasi, O., Fallon, M. D., and N. P. Wared. 2014. Swahili Grammar for Introductory and Intermediate Levels. Lanham: University Press of America.

Aquilina J. 1965. Teach Yourself Maltese. London: The English Universities Press LTD.

Azzopardi-Alexander, M., and A. Borg. 1997. Maltese. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bale, A., and J. Coon. 2014. Classifiers are for numerals, not for nouns: Consequences for the mass/count distinction. Linguistic Inquiry 45(4): 695–707. DOI:

Biswas, P. 2016. Number marking and definiteness in Bangla. Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California.

Blix, H. 2022. Interface Legibility and Nominal Classification: A Nanosyntactic Account of Kipsigis Singulatives. Glossa: A journal of general linguistics 7(1). DOI:

Borer, H. 2005. Structuring Sense I: In Name Only. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Bultinck, B. 2005. Numerous meanings: The meaning of English cardinals and the legacy of Paul Grice. Amsterdam: Elsevier. DOI:

Chierchia, G. 1998. Plurality of mass nouns and the notion of ‘semantic parameter’. In S. Rothstein (ed.), Events and Grammar, 53–103. Dordrecht: Kluwer. DOI:

Cinque, G. 2021. On Linearization. Towards a restrictive theory. Ms., University of Venice.

Dylon, M., and D. Ó Cróinín. 1961. Teach Yourself Irish. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Ionin, T., and O. Matushansky. 2006. The composition of complex cardinals. Journal of Semantics 23(4): 315–360. DOI:

Ionin T., and O. Matushansky. 2018. Cardinals: The Syntax and Semantics of Cardinal-Containing Expressions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. DOI:

He, C. 2015. Complex numerals in Mandarin Chinese are constituents. Lingua 164: 189–214. DOI:

He, C., and O.-S. Her. to appear. Complex numerals in English: Constituents or not? English Language and Linguistics.

Krifka, M. 1995. Common nouns: A contrastive analysis of Chinese and English. In G. N. Carlson, and F. J. Pelletier (eds.), The Generic Book, 398–411. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kung, S. S. 2007. A Descriptive Grammar of Huehuetla Tepehua. Austin. PhD thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

Launey, M. 2003. Awna parikwaki. Introduction à la langue palikur de Guyane et de l'Amapa. Paris: Institut De Recherche Pour Le Développement.

Lee, I., and R. Ramsey. 2000. The Korean Language. Albany: State University of New York.

Li, X. 2011. On the Semantics of Classifiers in Chinese. Ph. D. thesis, Bar‐Ilan University, Ramat Gan. DOI:

Lisker, L. 1963. Introduction to Spoken Telugu. New York: American Council of Learned Societies.

Ngo, B. 2020. Vietnamese: An Essential Grammar. Abingdon: Routledge. DOI:

Po-Ching, Y., and D. Rimmington. 2015. Chinese: A comprehensive grammar. London and New York, NY: Routledge. DOI:

Phan, T. 2019. The absence of classifiers in numeral classifier constructions in Vietnamese. In M. Bağrıaçık, A. Breitbarth, and K De Clercq (eds.), Mapping Linguistic Data, 208–213. Online publication (

Qi, J., and C. He. 2019. The morphosyntax of numerals ʥi33/ʥĩ35 ‘one’ in Shuhi and implications for the semantics of numerals. Lingua 225: 63–80. DOI:

Robson, S. 1992. Javanese Grammar for Students. Melbourne: Monash University.

Rothstein, S. 2010. Counting and the mass/count distinction. Journal of Semantics 27(3): 343–397. DOI:

Rothstein, S. 2017. Semantics for counting and measuring. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Scontras, G. 2013. Accounting for counting: A unified semantics for measure terms and classifiers. In T. Snider (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 23, 549–569. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. DOI:

Simpson, A., and B. Ngo. 2018. Classifier syntax in Vietnamese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 27(3): 211–246. DOI:

Smyth, D. 2002. Thai. An Essential Grammar. London: Routledge.

Stenson, N. 2019. Modern Irish: A comprehensive grammar. Oxon: Routledge. DOI:

Stuart, P. A. 1940. A Zulu Grammar for Begginers. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter.

Sudo, Y. 2016. The semantic role of classifiers in Japanese. Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 11(1): 1–15. DOI:

Tatsumi, Y. 2021. Linguistic Realization of Measuring and Counting in the Nominal Domain: A Cross-linguistic Study of Syntactic and Semantic Variations. PhD dissertation, University of Connecticut.

Wągiel, M., and P. Caha. 2020. Universal semantic features and the typology of cardinal numerals. Catalan Journal of Linguistics 19: 199–229. DOI:

Wągiel, M., and P. Caha. 2021. Complex simplex numerals. Acta Linguistica Academica 68(4): 470–515. DOI:



Žoha, L., Wągiel, M., & Caha, P. (2022). The morphology of complex numerals: A cross-linguistic study. Linguistics Beyond and Within (LingBaW), 8, 200–217.

Lukáš Žoha
Masaryk University, Brno
Marcin Wągiel 
Masaryk University, Brno , Czechia & University of Wrocław
Pavel Caha 
Masaryk University, Brno


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Contributions to this journal are published under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons Licence