In this sentence:

Five birds landed on the branch.

Is the word “five” an adjective? Why or why not?


In old grammars, cardinal numbers were treated as definite numeral adjectives. Such classification is still taught by some, but it's outdated, because as grammar evolves as a discipline, more and more word classes are being distinguished. One of the things apparent right away is that cardinal numbers are not gradable (five marbles, *fiver marbles) and cannot be modified by intensifiers (*very five marbles). That doesn't exclude them automatically from adjectives (those denoting maximums aren't gradable/modifiable by very either — *very enormous; notwithstanding, one can say, Oh, that is such an enormous tree, whereas the same is not possible with numbers: *Oh, those are such five trees), but it does hint that they are special.


One of the uses (and definitions) of five is as a determiner

amounting to five: five minutes, five nights

A determiner can be an adjective. There is a discussion of determiners here.

  • 1
    That sounds confusing. We'd never say 'nouns can be verbs' – 'a noun may undergo conversion into an intercategorial polyseme which is a verb', yes. Determiners and adjectives don't spring from the ground with labels on, and certainly not with two labels on. Grammarians decide on what word class they are best considered to be in by looking at how they are allowed to behave and what their function is chosen to be in a sentence. And your linked article contains: However, modern theorists of grammar prefer to distinguish determiners as a separate word class from adjectives . . . – Edwin Ashworth Oct 7 '13 at 23:06
  • 1
    Determiners are not adjectives. Determiners modify nouns and so do adjectives. But they are not the same thing. – John Lawler Oct 7 '13 at 23:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.