Six women were there.

Is the number "six" a noun or an adjective here? Or maybe "six women" is a compound noun?

3 Answers 3


When six is followed by a noun, it is an adjective.

The six women put on an outstanding performance

A six-woman team was set up to deal with the problem

Six women were arrested by police

When no noun follows, the six is itself a noun or pronoun.

He wrote a six on the cover of his book (noun)

When he played a six, we knew the game was over (noun- playing cards)

The six from Atlanta played well (noun - a hockey team has six players)

He hit the ball for a six - (noun - cricket term for a stroke that wins six runs)

set the table for six (pronoun representing six people)

  • But a determiner can also be followed by a noun. Moreover adjectives are gradable, some are inflectional some need more or most. Though there are non-gradable adjectives as well. So just by the fact that it is followed by a noun you can't decide it an adjective. I think more evidence is needed to prove. Mar 27, 2016 at 13:39
  • 1
    @Man_From_India, opinions vary about whether a number is an adjective or a determiner, for example the link I quoted already- learnersdictionary.com/definition/six (adjective) and collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/six (determiner). The choice of terminology may depend on the level of the intended audience. I have chosen what I believe is the more appropriate terminology for my answer to this question. If you think that it is necessary to mention gradable, inflectional, comparatives and superlatives to answer the question, please feel free to do so.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 27, 2016 at 14:00
  • Hmmm. Actually I have little problem if I consider all these things. It will take time, if solved at all. So no answer from me :-) Anyway for a learner's perspective it doesn't matter much. At least six. Mar 27, 2016 at 14:03
  • @Java I think I have came up with some reasons as to why not to call it an adjectives. You can comment there if you disagree. And that would be a nice food for thought for me :-) Apr 1, 2016 at 17:04

"Six" is a numeral and numerals are special adjectives answering the question how many.

  • The word "numeral," when used as a noun, refers to the shape that you draw when writing a number. For instance the numeral for zero looks like a capital letter "O." "Six" is a number.
    – Adam
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:11
  • 1
    @Adam In the context of language, it's quite normal to refer to words like six as numerals. See for example The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.385 under "cardinal numerals".
    – user230
    Apr 2, 2016 at 1:55
  • As so often two terms are used: Some grammars use cardinal numbers, some cardinal numerals When I wrote my post I didn`t think of the term number.
    – rogermue
    Apr 2, 2016 at 6:59
  • "number" in grammars refers to singular and plural.
    – rogermue
    Apr 3, 2016 at 6:36

Six women were there.

So what word category does six fall into in this sentence? It's determinative, plain and simple and nothing else in this particular sentence. And this determinative functions as a determiner or, if you prefer, a quantifier here. But the word falls into determinative category.

There are three types of determinatives, and this determinative falls into type III category.

NP Structure -

Determinative (type I + type II + type III) + Adjective + head noun


Determinative - type I - ALL
Determinative - type II - THE
Determinative - type III - SIX

NP Structure -

(ALL THE SIX) selected BOYS

But apparently this particular cardinal number in this sentence does look like an adjective. So why did I chose it as a determinative, and not an adjective?

Reasons -

  • Generally an adjective defines the property of the head noun it modifies. Example: a good friend. The adjective - good - actually shows the property of the head noun - friend. How is the friend? - good.

  • A determinative can be followed by an adjective. Example - a remarkable win. But here six can't be followed by a, for semantic reason. But of course other determinatives can sit before it in NP structure. Example - those six women.

  • The determinative - six - can't be gradable like adjectives. It's not inflectional, nor it can be used like this more six or most six, but adjectives can be used this way. The adjective good has gradable form, like better and best. The adjective beautiful can be gradable, though it's not inflectional - more beautiful and most beautiful.

  • The determinative - six - can take part in partitive constructions like this - six of them. Here it's used as a fused determinative head (which means that it functions as a determiner and as the head of the noun phrase). But an adjective can't be used this way. We can't say good of them. To use adjectives this way we have to use the the superlative or comparative form of an adjective - the best of them or the better of them. And a non gradable can't be used this way - (a/the) dead of them.

  • 1
    This is the kind of answer that might go down well with the good folks at English Language & Usage or Linguistics, but can you really imagine standing in front of a group of students who have only been learning english for six months and explaining this to them?
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 1, 2016 at 18:04
  • What are the three types of determinative? Apr 1, 2016 at 23:49
  • 1
    @AlanCarmack I believe Man From India is referring to Quirk et al's model of pre-determiners, central determiners, and post-determiners. His examples all, the, and six fit cleanly into these categories. You can read more about this model in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Quirk et al. 1985), pages 253–264.
    – user230
    Apr 2, 2016 at 0:06
  • @snailboat And I avoided mentioning central determiner, pre and post determiner because it might create confusion. I followed H & P's terminology here. But at the same time classified those set of POS like the way Quirk et al did. I personally felt Quirk's analysis is easier for learners. Apr 2, 2016 at 0:29
  • @Man_From_India If that's your goal, I might suggest avoiding the functional fusion terminology. There's no quicker way to make a non-linguist's eyes glaze over than to talk about a "fused determiner-head". I think that, although fusion might be more parsimonious in terms of theory, pedagogically speaking other approaches are usually easier on the brain.
    – user230
    Apr 2, 2016 at 0:34

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