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If "one", "two", and "three" are cardinal numbers, and "first", "second", and "third" are ordinal numbers, then what are "once", "twice", and "thrice"? Is there a name for this kind of number?

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    Not really a duplicate question, even if the answer happens to be the same.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 3:29
  • Instead of saying "one time", "two times", "three times", these words are used to denote the number of occurrences of some event. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 3:36
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    I know what they mean, that's not the question.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 3:55
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    @Jim: The question here is addressed in the same book that is cited in the question you link to, but the answer is different for the two types of terms. Consequently I think that these are closely related but not duplicate questions.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:03

1 Answer 1

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One longtime term for this group of words is numeral adverb. William C. Fowler, English Grammar: The English Language in Its Elements and Forms (1850) uses this nomenclature:

§ 193. NUMERALS express the relation of Number and Quantity. They are divided into the following classes:

...

IV. NUMERAL ADVERBS, which answer the question How often? as, Once, twice, thrice, four times.

That terminology goes back to at least 1822, when it was used by Edward Everett, in his translation of Philipp Buttmann, Greek Grammar.

The same terminology is used as recently as 2007, by Alexander Coupe, A Grammar of Mongsen Ao (2007):

Numeral adverbs are derived by attaching the suffix –pən to the stem of a cardinal number. The numeral adverb khən ‘once’ is irregular, in common with both the distributive and ordinal derivations of ONE, and does not use this suffix to express its adverbial meaning. Apart from [a complication involving the word for ‘twice’], the derivations of the remaining numeral adverbs are completely regular, e.g. à-sə̀m-pən 'thrice', phə̀lì-pən 'four times', ...


Update (April 19, 2022): iterative and multiplicative numerals

As longtime site participant Michael points out in a comment beneath this answer, Fowler changes his nomenclature in the revised and enlarged edition of English Grammar: The English Language in Its Elements and Forms (1855) from numeral adverb to iterative numeral:

§ 280. I. CARDINAL NUMERALS, or Cardinals, which express number in its simplest form, and answer the question How many? as One, two, three, four, and so on indefinitely. ...

...

  1. Iterative Numerals; as, Once, twice, thrice. These are the genitives of the abstract numerals used adverbially. The series is continued by means of adverbial phrases; as, Four times, five times; and answers to the question How often?

All subsequent editions of Fowler's English Grammar, which appeared as late as 1884 used the term iterative numerals. I should perhaps note here that this Fowler is William Chauncey Fowler (1793–1881), an American grammarian, not Henry Watson Fowler, the eminent British grammarian (1858–1933).

This term still occasionally appears, as in Michael Closs, Native American Mathematics (2010):

First, if events rather than things are being counted [in the Inuktitut language], the verb suffix -iqtaq-, 'do so many times', can be added to the number root, e.g., pingasu-iqtaq-tuq, 'he did it three times', -- such words are sometimes termed iterative numerals.

...

When the roots for the iterative numerals are reduplicated [in the Ojibway language] an iterative distributive series is obtained (e.g., neningoding, 'once each'; neniizhing, 'twice each'; etc.).

Yet another term for this type of number is multiplicative numeral, as used (for example) in Nicholas Poppe, Grammar of Written Mongolian (1974):

Multiplicative Numerals

201. Suffix -ta/-te. Function: to form numerals meaning "one time", "two times or twice", etc.

nigente once | qoyarta twice | yurbanta three times | dörbente four times | tabunta five times

Although olan "many" and kedü "how many" are not numerals, there exist the forms olanta "many times" and kedünte "how many times".

202. Another form of the multiplicative numerals is that without the final consonant n of the cardinal form.

nige once | qoyar twice | yurba three times

However, Fowler, writing in 1855, applies the term multiplicative numerals to words of the form single, double, triple, etc.:

III. MULTIPLICATIVE NUMERALS, or Multiplicatives, which show the number of parts of which a whole is composed, and answer the question How many fold? as Single, double, triple, or treble, four-fold or quadruple.

It follows that referring to words of the form once, twice, thrice, etc., as multiplicative numerals is problematic. Nevertheless, a number of authors have used the term in that sense. For example, from [U.S.] Army Language School, Serbo-Croatian Textbook (1952) [relevant text not shown in snippet window]:

300 MULTIPLICATIVE NUMERALS Multiplicative numerals in Serbo-Croatian are formed : 1.- Cardinal numeral + пут in the proper case:

један пут once | два пута twice | три пута thrice, three times | четири пута four times ...

And from Stefan Wurm, Turkic Peoples of the USSR: Their Historical Background, Their Languages and the Development of Soviet Linguistic Policy (1954) [snippet view]:

[A]pproximative numerals are also found, for instance, "about ten", which in Uzbek would [word in Cyrillic alphabet] (on-te-çe ) etc. As a rule, however, there is no special category for expressing the concept rendered in English by the multiplicative numerals (e.g. "twice").

But other sources use the term in its Fowler-defined sense. For example, from Alfred Read, Balti Grammar (1934) [combined snippets]:

Multiplicative Numerals

The English suffix "fold", for instance "two-fold", "threefold", when meaning twice or thrice the amount already mentioned is very simply constructed in Balti by adding the word zde to the qualifying number.

And from Fred Householder, Kostas Kazazis & Andreas Koutsoudas, Reference Grammar of Literary Dhimotiki (1964) [snippet view]:

3.5631. Multiplicative numerals: These correspond to English "double", "triple", etc. They are regular adjectives in -(α)πλός, -(α)πλή, -(α)πλό , but are also frequently used as substantives.

Mario Pei & Frank Gaynor, Dictionary of Linguistics (1954) offers this pair of relevant entries:

iterative numeral: A numeral which answers the question "How many times?" (Also referred to as multiplicative numeral.)

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multiplicative numeral: A numeral which ansers the question "How many times?" or "How many fold?" (Some authorities classify also the iterative numerals as multiplicatives.)

This dictionary doesn't include an entry for numeral adverb, however.

On balance, it would seem wise to avoid multiplicative numeral in favor of either numeral adverb or iterative numeral, assuming that the choice came down to these three options.

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  • No problem! This was an interesting answer; I had not heard of this term before.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:22
  • Note: it seems that in the newer 1860 version of William Fowlers book, the expression "numeral adverbs" was renamed to iterative numerals: archive.org/details/englishgrammaren00fowl/page/272
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 17:11
  • It appears to have been used earlier for Latin grammar. "After a numeral adverb once, twice..." William Walker, A Treatise... (1720)
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 13:20

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