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Latin Numbers - 3 (6) Types of Latin Numbers


Types of Numbers:

In English, when we refer to numbers, we normally mean 1, 2, 3 ... ad infinitum. These are the counting or cardinal numbers. We use them to count objects. [Sometimes when we talk of counting, we mean a tally, where you put a vertical line on a paper and when you have four in a row, you put a diagonal fifth line through the group. These aren't numbers, though.] Sometimes, by number we mean 1st, 2nd, 3rd ... (also to infinity). These tell us the order of items and are therefore called ordinal numbers. If we talk of Roman numbers, we may mean one of these two types of numbers, but we may also mean the alphabet-based numbers we call Roman numerals, most commonly seen in terms of the letters I, V, X, C, and M.

There are three main forms of Latin numbers you should know:

  1. cardinal (counting) numbers,
  2. ordinal numbers, and
  3. Roman numerals.

1. Cardinal Numbers:

Cardinal numbers are counting numbers. When we count objects, we say "one, two, three..." in English. In French, we would say "un, deux, trois..." In Latin, we would say "unus, duo, tres..." but we would have to check on agreement with the object counted for these three forms.

2. Ordinal Numbers:

Ordinal numbers are ordered numbers. The number doesn't refer to a quantity or value, but to rank. In English, our ordinal numbers begin with first, second, and third (Latin: primus, secundus, tertius). You might win a blue ribbon or a gold medal for first place. Second and third place win baser medals. These ordinal numbers are adjectives. In Latin, adjectives must be modified (declined) to agree with their nouns.

3. Roman Numerals:

The counting forms we use in English, starting with 1,2,3, etc. are numerals. They happen to be based on Arabic numerals (or Hindu numerals), and were not used by the ancient Romans. Instead, the Romans, like the Greeks, used select letters of their alphabets. Roman numerals include the letters I, V, X, L, C, D, and M. There is not a symbol for zero in the Roman numeral system. There are interesting theories about how these particular letters came to have their significance.

Other Numbers:

There are also:
4. fractions,
5. number adverbs, and
6. distributives (how many each).

Some of the number adverbs are:

  • semel (once),
  • bis (twice),
  • ter (thrice),
  • quater (four times), and
  • quinquie(n)s (five times).
Some of the distributives are:
  • singulî (-ae, -a),
  • bini,
  • terni,
  • quaterni,
  • quini,
  • seni,
  • septeni,
  • octoni,
  • noveni, and
  • deni.
The distributive numbers are declined as 1st and 2nd declension plural adjectives.

Roman Mathematics

More on Ancient Mathematics

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