I've been taught that 'number words' are names for numbers, this implies they should be considered nouns, how come we can have phrases like:

'Two apples'

'One person'

'There are two of them'

Where 'two' acts as a sort of adjective, why can 'two' act in two different ways and yet still refer to the same number?

'Green' is similar, we use it as both a noun and adjective and it refers to the same idea.

  • The full Oxford English Dictionary says two can be adjective ("two apples", "my two best friends") , noun (these two are good"), or adverb. But the only example they give for adverb is as part of the adverbial phrase two times, which I'd have thought would usually be twice anyway. The main point is many / most Englsh words can have multiple "part of speech" labels. And imho two is relatively unusual, in that I can't think of even a ridiculously contrived context where it can be forced into the role of verb. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 19:57
  • @FumbleFingers in each case it refers to the number, how can it 'refer' without being a noun of sorts?
    – Confused
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 19:59
  • ...imho in There are two of them it's a noun. Consider Two of them went home, which can easily be reduced to Two went home. If a word is acting as the subject of a verb, I think by definition that makes it a noun (in that context). Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:01
  • I have two apples, I have many apples, I have ripe apples,... Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:02
  • 1
    I think you're just confusing yourself by talking about "the name of the number". The word two is an "adjective" in contexts like I have two apples..., but it's a "noun" in contexts like *...which are riper than your two". Having said that, I don't really see much point in agonising over which label to apply in cases where it's not obvious. How does that help you learn English? Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


It can be a noun:

He played a two onto his opponent's ace.

(that means a playing card labelled as "2".)

But "two" is from a special class of words. It is not a noun, adjective or adverb but a "numeral". These are sometimes considered to be part of the wider class of determiners, but are sufficiently distinct that they can be treated as separate.

an something still refer to something and not be a noun?

Certainly. "eat" refers to a particular action, "hot" describes or names a state or feeling. But "eat" is verb and "hot" is an adjective in a sentence like "I eat a hot pie everyday"

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