Numerical adjectives. What is the difference between saying “40 days and 40 nights vs only “40 days and nights”

Also, if I’m looking for 10 bottles of wine and liquor does this mean 10 bottles in total or 10 of each? What is the difference between 10 bottles of wine and liquor vs 10 bottles of wine and ten bottles of liquor?

  • The expression 'forty days and forty nights' echoes various Biblical passages, notably the time spent by Jesus fasting in the wilderness. (It's thought that 40 is just a convenient round number to indicate 'a long time'.) There is no reason to use it in ordinary writing/conversation unless you particularly want to give your words a literary flavour. Apr 11, 2022 at 12:42
  • Whether you repeat the number or not, 40 days and [40] nights will always refer to the same amount of elapsed time (because in "duration" contexts like this, "a day" and "a day and a night" both refer to the same 24-hour period). But with 10 bottles of wine and liquor or 10 boys and girls, the two referents are obviously different - in that case, if you don't explicitly repeat the number the default interpretation is 10 in total, not 10 of each. Apr 11, 2022 at 12:43
  • @FumbleFingers the first example is ambiguous too, lacking context. It could be about working shifts. "I've done 40 days and 40 nights" means 80 working shifts. Apr 11, 2022 at 15:32
  • @WeatherVane: Haha - I can hardly deny the point when you put it like that! But in nearly every case, "40 days and 40 nights" and "40 days and nights" would mean the same (40 consecutive 24-hour periods). Whereas "40 boys and girls" would almost always refer to 40 children in total (a mixture of both sexes, not necessarily exactly 20 of each). But "40 boys and 40 girls" would always refer to 80 children, with equal numbers of boys and girls. Apr 11, 2022 at 16:03
  • @FumbleFingers apart from that the usage would be either archaic, or in "I've been waiting 40 days and 40 nights for my dodo egg to hatch". Or for emphasis as in "I've been waiting 40 days and 40 nights for you to say that." Apr 11, 2022 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


In each case you would need to understand in context.

In the first example, the context strongly suggests that "40 days and nights" is "a total of 40 days, and each day's associated night". That is a total of 960 hours...

Likewise "40 plates of fish and chips" is 40 fish and 40 piles of chips.

On the other hand I might understand "40 coats and jackets" to mean a total of 40 items of clothing, each one is either a coat or a jacket. That's because "jacket" and "coat" are very similar types of things. However you should probably say "40 coats or jackets".

In the bottles example the sentence is ambiguous. The wider context might help understand. If a person was saying "There were 10 bottles of wine and liquor in the cupboard, and now there are only 3" It probably means "10 bottles of either wine or liquor, I'm not sure which because I didn't check".

On the other hand if someone says "I want you to bring 10 bottles of wine and liquor to the party" I would need to ask what they mean. That is not the usual way to speak.

As a learner you should try to avoid such ambiguities. You will rarely need to understand them, since native speakers will tend not to use an expression like "10 bottles of wine and liquor". But if you do need to understand an expression like this, you should be unafraid to ask what the speaker means.


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