As "none" and "some" are pronouns, so can specific numbers function as pronouns:

How many students failed?

In "none failed," none is a pronoun.

In "seven failed," seven is a pronoun.

But in what category of pronoun do numbers belong? The categories I know of are personal, demonstrative, interrogative, indefinite, possessive, reciprocal, relative, reflexive, and intensive—and specific numbers would not seem to belong to any of these.

  • 1
    The dictionaries generally label 'none' a pronoun but 'six', 'seven' ... and 'one' when it's not the 'One must do one's best' usage as nouns when they're not determiners. I think you've highlighted an inconsistency. Apr 23, 2014 at 19:29
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    Web11 does cite numbers as pronouns.
    – user66965
    Apr 23, 2014 at 19:32
  • Wiktionary is possibly the most logical, citing numbers as numbers. 'Pronouns' seems to make more sense than 'nouns' until one has to explain why 'twelve' is a pronoun while 'a dozen' isn't. Apr 23, 2014 at 19:47
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    If seven was a pronoun, wouldn't it be an answer to Who failed?
    – Neil W
    Apr 25, 2014 at 4:54

4 Answers 4


In this case, I believe that numbers, when used as a pronoun (because English is just so flexible), would be an indefinite pronoun, just like "some."

According to Wikipedia, most frankly:

"An indefinite pronoun is a pronoun that refers to one or more unspecified beings, objects, or places."

Which, essentially does work with numbers, doesn't it? Considering how "numerical pronouns" are used, they function in a sentence exactly as any other indefinite pronoun can - in fact, you might just be able to substitute a number for any indefinite pronoun in a sentence. For example:

"All failed the test."

"Three failed the test."

Also, if you were to add something to the sentence to make it more obvious that the numbers are actually used as pronouns, not adjectives, you can get:

"All of them failed the test."

"Three of them failed the test."

Then, it becomes quite obvious that here, the number would actually be a pronoun, wouldn't it?

P.S.: If all else fails to convince you, remember that "one" is an obvious example of an indefinite pronoun - after all, if "one" works, why wouldn't "two", "three", or any other number work?

  • this is the way I see it—I mean, that it is a pronoun. But "an indefinite pronoun" is what confuses me. If I say "all of them failed" I am being indefinite about how many this is. If I say seven of them failed, it seems I am being pretty definite—is it because I am not actually naming which seven failed that it is indefinite?
    – user66965
    Apr 28, 2014 at 3:06
  • I might be able to make some sense of this in that the "indefinite" in "indefinite pronoun" refers not to the indefinite amount but to the indefinite-ness of the target - it could be seven of anything. Also, remember that "one" is an indefinite pronoun - and that, in its quantity, is also pretty definite (just like seven).
    – Kye W Shi
    Apr 29, 2014 at 2:50

You can consider the number to be used as an adjective in these cases, rather than pronouns.

That gets us a little closer to the answer - seven describes the students.
Here's a Merriam-Webster article about adjectives functioning as nouns.

  • the article you cite describes adjectives serving as nouns. I am talking about pronouns, and, again, Web11, in its definitions of specific numbers (say, ten), does include a pronomial form. Ten may be a noun (I have a ten), it may be an adjective (I have ten dollars), it may be a pronoun (Ten were found guilty). The question is: what kind of pronoun is it?
    – user66965
    Apr 23, 2014 at 21:29
  • Few classify numbers as adjectives nowadays. If they're used to quantify a noun (seven students, one certificate) they're classed as quantifiers (a subset of determiners). When they are used without an accompanying noun, they're certainly not adjectives. Nominal adjectives are 'always preceded by a determiner' according to the Internet Grammar: The poor; the good, the bad and the ugly ... Apr 23, 2014 at 21:40
  • @user66965: This article at Wikipedia has a different take from that at Web11. It also disagrees with my assertion that numbers are quantifiers (though I can find support for the latter view). It says: <<a numeral is a member of a word class (or a subclass of determiners) designating numbers ... There are also number words which enumerate but are not a distinct part of speech, such as 'dozen' [noun], 'first', [adjective], or 'twice', [adverb].... Numerals may be attributive, as in two dogs, or pronominal, as in I saw two (of them).>> Apr 23, 2014 at 21:52

I don't think seven in seven failed is a pronoun. If I am correct, seven failed is an ellipsis, where seven is simply a number, but the pronoun is omitted. This is also why the sentence on its own does not make much sense. Only when it follows another sentence with the pronoun in question, the meaning becomes clear: How many students failed? Seven failed.

  • this makes sense to me, but again, web11 cites seven and all other numbers as a pronoun—so in what instance is it a pronoun if not in "seven failed"?
    – user66965
    Apr 28, 2014 at 3:07

Some is an indefinite pronoun.
This is particularly important when a student is learning subject-verb agreement as "some" is one of those indefinite pronouns that can be either singular or plural.

For example,

"Some of the pie was great."

"Some of the pieces of the pie were great."

Both of these sentences are grammatically correct and it also explains why "Some" is indefinite; its definite value is determined by what it is describing--although most indefinite pronouns are definite in number. exempli gratia--"Somebody" is indefinite in gender, but always singular in number. Somebody in the room left his or her bag.

By the way, when an indefinite pronoun (or any pronoun, for that matter) is the subject of a sentence, as above, it is not acting as adjectives as the other response suggested--subjects will always be nouns or pronouns, and anyone who says otherwise has no grasp of basic grammatical concepts.

As to the remainder of your question... "Seven" did not fail. Seven "something" failed. Seven is being used adjectivally to modify the person place or thing that failed, and it is not itself a noun or a pronoun. The missing, implied noun is the subject of your sentence and seven is simply an adjectival modifier.

  • This comment thread has gotten way out of hand. Aaron, circular reasoning won't get you anywhere, much less so when delivered in a condescending manner. Everyone else: don't take the bait and stay on topic. Prizes, real or imagined, are irrelevant to anything here.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 25, 2014 at 12:00

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