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I am at the moment looking into technical English terms used in mathematics.

The terminology in fractions (such as 1/8, 2/8 etc.) is that the bottom is called the denominator and the top the numerator.

  • The bottom makes sense as it denominates the fraction - it gives it it's name (one eighth, two eighths etc.).
  • The top is a bit tricky for me. It counts the number of bits we have (one eighth, two eighths etc.) but can I say that it numerates the bits?

Does numerate mean count? Does the verb to numerate even exist? I am able to find many uses of it as a verb when searching (and Google Translate translates it to to give numbers or to number) but I am sitting with an official dictionary from my native language, and "to numerate" is not there.

Here is a screenshot of the online dictionary Ordbogen.com (in Danish):

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It displays numerate as an adjective only, and to be numerate would be fine. This means a person who is good with numbers (in Danish: talkyndig) and is not really getting me closer to "counting" the bits in the fraction.

Maybe it is just a name invented for fractions with no other meaning to it than having something to do with numbers? An adjective over time turned into a noun? Or is my dictionary incomplete?

For reference (and this is the reason I am looking this up in detail in English) I can tell that the Danish equivalents are very, very logical and I was hoping the English versions were as well:

  • The denominator is in Danish called nævneren, literally meaning the namer, and
  • the numerator is in Danish called tælleren, literally meaning the counter.
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    I think the "numerate" word you're looking for is enumerate (common in English), and the equivalent of your Danish tælleren is English tally. And thank you for posting a well-researched, well-presented question. +1.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 30, 2017 at 8:43
  • Hello, Steeven. ELU is aimed at linguists, and a reasonable amount of sensible research is expected to be carried out, and the results shown. M-W, for instance defines the verb numerate as an alternative to enumerate. Etymon is a good place to start to look for etymologies (and actually covers the Latin origins of numerator). Jun 30, 2017 at 8:44
  • @EdwinAshworth Is the question off-topic on this site?
    – Steeven
    Jun 30, 2017 at 8:54
  • @Steeven - no it is not off-topic, you have presented your research and you are asking for help. Etymology can help in this case but you are not supposed to be familiar with it as a new user. etymonline.com/index.php?term=numerator&allowed_in_frame=0
    – user66974
    Jun 30, 2017 at 9:00
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    IMHO, a non-native speaker could consult a bunch of English language references and still be confused by the difference between "numerate" and "enumerate." (I have these problems in Danish.) This is a "grammar" (verb form) question as much as it is a "dictionary" question. I would have put this question on English Language Learners, but consider it on-topic here.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 30, 2017 at 11:31

2 Answers 2

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"Numerate" is an adjective that refers to a person being capable in "numeracy."

The verb form is "enumerate." That is to "ascertain the number of."

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The English word “numerator” actually seems to be taken from French numerateur/Latin numerator, where it was already established as a word. Since the word was not derived in English, the existence of "numerator" doesn’t definitely mean a verb “to numerate” exists or ever existed in English (compare doctor and emperor).

However, in this particular case, a corresponding verb turns out to exist. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says

numerate, v.

trans. To number, compute, or calculate; to enumerate (things, etc.). Also intr.

The three most recent OED examples of its use are as follows:

  • 1900 Pall Mall Mag. Sept.–Dec. 216 I have not numerated Noël's birthday presents, because I wish to leave something to the imagination of my young readers.
  • 1938 Science 3 June 396 We numerate the irreducible clusters in any order from 1 to m, where m is the total number of irreducible clusters.
  • 1979 Business Week (Nexis) 26 Feb. 65 More than 90% of Japanese raw materials and other imports are numerated and funded in dollars.


It is not a common word. I don't think I've ever used it or heard it used. The OED gives its frequency as three dots out of eight, compared to five dots out of eight for enumerate (v.) and number (v.). According to the “Key to frequency”,

Band 3 contains words which occur between 0.01 and 0.1 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These words are not commonly found in general text types like novels and newspapers, but at the same time they are not overly opaque or obscure. Nouns include ebullition and merengue, and examples of adjectives are amortizable, prelapsarian, contumacious, agglutinative, quantized, argentiferous. In addition, adjectives include a marked number of very colloquial words, e.g. cutesy, dirt-cheap, teensy, badass, crackers. Verbs and adverbs diverge to opposite ends of the spectrum of use encompassed by this band. Verbs tend to be either colloquial or technical, e.g. emote, mosey, josh, recapitalize. About 20% of all non-obsolete OED entries are in Band 3.

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