Cardinal number

In linguistics, more precisely in traditional grammar, a cardinal number or cardinal numeral (or just cardinal) is a part of speech used to count, such as the English words one, two, three, but also compounds like three hundred and forty-two

cardinal (adj.)

"chief, pivotal," early 14c., from Latin cardinalis "principal, chief, essential," from cardo (genitive cardinis) "that on which something turns or depends; pole of the sky," originally "door hinge," of unknown origin.

What's the relation between the two?

  • Have you looked up the etymologies? Where? What did you see? What is still puzzling you? Edit your question to reflect those answers and we'll be able to help you better. Jul 15, 2014 at 15:48
  • 1
    Answered here already (by Cerberus). Jul 15, 2014 at 16:05

2 Answers 2


Cardinals are quite simply the primary, most ‘basic’ form of numerals.

Different languages have different categories of numbers (English has cardinals, ordinals, and a few repetitionals or multiplicatives [once, twice]; Latin has these as well as distributives; Irish has animatives; etc.), but if a given language has numerals at all, it will almost certainly have at least cardinals.

The other types of numbers are given names for what they indicate apart from numeric values: ordinals indicate an ordering, etc.

Cardinals, being the primary type, indicates just the numeric value and nothing else.

  • What do you mean with "animatives" in Irish? I have been trying to look it up but couldn't find anything with that term
    – Jon
    Jun 3, 2022 at 20:56
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    @Jon I’m not sure if ‘animative’ is an actual term – I may just coined it for the occasion to match ‘multiplicatives/distributives’. They’re a specific set of numerals used to count/refer specifically to people and other entities considered animate enough to be ‘people-like’, sort of like ‘pair’ and ‘trio’ in English. Their forms are: 1 duine, 2 beirt, 3 triúr, 4 ceathrar, 5 cúigear, 6seisear, 7 seachtar, 8 ochtar, 9 naonúr, 10 deichniúir, [nothing for 11] and 12 dháréag (for other numbers, the cardinals are used). Jun 3, 2022 at 21:32
  • Thanks for the clarification
    – Jon
    Jun 4, 2022 at 22:03
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:03

So if cardinal meant "something on which everything depends", then a Cardinal in the Catholic church is an important person who makes decisions, etc. A cardinal number is the basic number on which other numbers are based.

  • Welcome. Are you asking a question or giving an answer? Can you show that "something on which everything depends" applies when describing cardinal numbers?
    – Davo
    Mar 29, 2021 at 17:19

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