As part of a book I'm writing, I'm making a language that uses suffixes on number words to represent place values. English uses "-ty" for this purpose to mark tens, but I want to do it to larger place values like hundred or million.

Are there any word-based languages that use suffixes rather than entire words to mark higher place values, so that I can study their numbering systems to come up with better suffixes?


The trouble with your question is that it is not clear what "word" and "suffix" mean cross-linguistically; but I think Japanese meets your criterion.

The "power-of-ten" suffixes like -hyaku (hundred) -sen (thousand) -man (ten thousand) are a special case of so-called classifiers, such as -nen (counting people) and -mai (counting flat things), and are combined with the number word into, probably, a single word, as can be seen by certain sandhi rules; so

nihyaku = 200

nisen = 2,000

niman = 20 000


ippyaku (< ichi-hyaku) = 100

issen (< ichi-sen) = 1,000

ichiman = 10,000

I believe that this system is imported wholesale from Chinese, but I know much less about that, which is why I have concentrated on Japanese.

  • I actually wanted to comment on that in the original question - I know that Chinese and Japanese have a suffix-like system of affixing another character after the number, but I was looking for examples in languages whose morphology treats the suffixes as lower-class citizens than Chinese tends to do. So basically, specifically excluding languages whose number system is derived from Chinese.
    – Joe Z.
    Jun 2 '15 at 18:13
  • Especially in Japanese, the words can usually be used by themselves without problem; you'd usually use hyaku (百) by itself, not ippyaku (一百).
    – Joe Z.
    Jun 2 '15 at 18:16
  • I don't speak Japanese, but I think the Chinese system uses compounding rather than affixation. Jul 3 '15 at 17:51
  • Joe Z. is correct: hyaku amd sen are not suffixes, while -man is. You can say hyaku-en (100 Yen) or sen-en (1000 Yen), but not man-en. In that sense, Colin Fine's answer is incorrect, because the question is about suffixes. I agree, however, that the question should be changed to whether there are languages that use "affixes". Also note that Japanese also uses the suffixes -oku (10<sup>8</sup>) and -tyoo (10<sup>12</sup>). Jul 31 '15 at 13:23

English -ty stems from an actual, albeit contracted, noun, though (from tigiwiz, plural of tegun "ten"). If we still want to regard -ty as a suffix, then Russian has something similar: pyatsot, shestsot, semsot, vosemsot, deviatsot (500, 600, 700, 800). Although, technically the latter part is still very noun-like (stems from the noun meaning "hundred"), as seen in its declension (NOM trista > INSTR tremiastami); however it's regarded as one word by Russian grammarians, it's spelled as one word, and I think most people perceive it as one single word (I guess it's viewed as one single word because you can't put random words between the parts).

  • I'd say there's a simpler reason for their being seen as one word: having only one stressed syllable. Jul 27 '15 at 2:14
  • In oblique cases like dvumiastami, there are two stressed syllables, though.
    – carsten
    Jul 27 '15 at 16:59
  • I'm not sure there are. I've asked this on Russian SE: russian.stackexchange.com/questions/9317/… Jul 27 '15 at 23:22
  • 1
    I don't have enough reputation to post comments there. I think a potential problem with двумястами is that it's more of an educated form, as in colloquial speech compound numerals tend to be indeclinable. Also I see you cited the Russian wiktionary; the English wiktionary on the other hand has двумя́ста́ми :)
    – carsten
    Jul 28 '15 at 0:47

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