In some hypothetical language, could ten grains of rice be paucal but ten people be plural because ten grains of rice are only a few, whereas ten people are a lot?

Or is paucal grammatically stricter than that and applies to an exact range per language? e.g. always three to six items in one language and always three to ten items in another language?

  • 1
    In my experience, paucal quantification is expressed by such quantifiers as "a few", "a little", "several", "a bit". etc. The paucal determiniatives indicate an imprecise small quantity or number. "A little" selects non-count heads, "a few" and "several" select plural count heads.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 11:07
  • @BillJ YellowSky's comment has been deleted. While English has phrases to describe the concept of paucality such as the quantifiers you mention, it has no grammar specifically for paucal.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Paucal is frequently not very strict, and in a number of languages with a paucal form, many different absolute quantities may be referred to sometimes with the paucal, sometimes with the plural.

Greville G. Corbett in Number, a volume in the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics series, writes:

Schütz (1985: 251) also discusses the paucal in Fijian, and says that it can be used for three and for twelve. Some consultants put the limit at fifteen, others put it higher. He points out that contrast is more important than the specific number, and mentions a text in which approximately thirty people are referred to sometimes with the paucal and sometimes with the plural. Andrew Pawley (personal communication) also says that its range varies considerably according to the situation.

Even if this quote does not specifically answer your question, it strongly implies that there may well be a language, where ten grains of rice may be referred to in the paucal and ten people in the plural. But by the same logic, it may well be that the same language in other contexts will use the plural for ten grains of rice and in still other contexts use the paucal for ten people.

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