Definition of number in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈnəmbər/


1An arithmetical value, expressed by a word, symbol, or figure, representing a particular quantity and used in counting and making calculations and for showing order in a series or for identification: she dialed the number carefully an even number
More example sentences
  • We also counted the number of words, abbreviations, symbols, numbers, and values in each record.
  • Finding the ideal ratio of words to numbers may prove a fruitful area for further research.
  • The whole number part starts off your list of numbers for the continued fraction.
numeral, integer, figure, digit;
character, symbol;
decimal, unit;
cardinal number, ordinal number
1.1 (numbers) dated Arithmetic: the boy was adept at numbers
2A quantity or amount: the company is seeking to increase the number of women on its staff the exhibition attracted vast numbers of visitors
More example sentences
  • Ham House's ghost tours are attracting an increasing number of visitors.
  • The battlefields of Normandy are drawing increasing numbers of British visitors as the anniversary of D-Day approaches.
  • Simply, step one involves estimating the expected number of substitutions per site accumulating between sampling times.
amount, quantity;
total, aggregate, tally;
2.1 (a number of) Several: we have discussed the matter on a number of occasions
More example sentences
  • The company has ruled out on a number of occasions a full listing on the stock market.
  • It has been reiterated on several occasions since through a number of declarations and statements.
  • All credit to Liverpool who put up a great fight and could have scored through Owen on a number of occasions.
several, various, quite a few, sundry
2.2A group or company of people: there were some distinguished names among our number
More example sentences
  • One of their number, party strategist Dominic Cummings, explained it to them recently.
  • The Scottish popular press doesn't have a lot of time for gays either, even though there are a few among their number.
  • However, the club are hopeful to have the tricky winger back among their number in the next few days to continue his trial.
group, company, crowd, circle, party, band, crew, set, gang
2.3 (numbers) A large quantity or amount, often in contrast to a smaller one; numerical preponderance: the weight of numbers turned the battle against them
More example sentences
  • Protesters find that their objections fall upon deaf ears; their reasons belittled and their sheer weight of numbers ignored.
  • Under the sheer weight of numbers, grandparents, aunts and uncles have begun to disown their own.
  • But when has weight of numbers been a reason to pre-empt the outcome of a parliamentary inquiry or cut it short?
3A single issue of a magazine: the October number of “Travel.”
3.1A song, dance, piece of music, etc., especially one of several in a performance: they go from one melodious number to another
More example sentences
  • For her audition Natalie had to recite two drama pieces and perform three song and dance numbers.
  • The performers will also tackle solo songs and duets, group numbers, character dances, duologues and slapstick.
  • In one of the program's dance numbers, he performed Topeng Dalem with refined and deeply touching movements.
song, piece (of music), tune, show tune, track;
routine, sketch, dance, act
3.2 [usually with adjective] informal A thing, typically an item of clothing, of a particular type, regarded with approval or admiration: Yvonne was wearing a little black number
More example sentences
  • The dress was a sleek, black number with tiny, silvery sequins along the low neckline.
  • She pulled it off, to find a slinky black number, with thin spaghetti-straps and a jagged edge.
  • Her friend is one of those people who have no creativity so they just throw on some cat ears with some black slinky numbers.
4 Grammar A distinction of word form denoting reference to one person or thing or to more than one. See also singular (sense 2 of the adjective), plural, count noun, and mass noun.
Example sentences
  • Countable nouns make a distinction between singular and plural number.
  • Human nouns have a distinct class marking mechanism based on number and gender.
  • There was a time a few years ago when the United States was spoken of in the plural number.


[with object]
1Amount to (a specified figure or quantity); comprise: the demonstrators numbered more than 5,000
More example sentences
  • Last year's total Jewish immigration into Israel, numbering some 23,000, was a 15-year low.
  • The military forces number about fifteen thousand and are among the best trained in Africa.
  • Current playable songs number only in the hundreds.
add up to, amount to, total, come to
1.1Include or classify as a member of a group: the orchestra numbers Brahms among its past conductors
More example sentences
  • The Wheelers were the best cycling club in the city, numbering among their members Ian Steel, who made an abortive appearance in the 1955 Tour, and Billy Bilsland, who had followed Steel and Ken Laidlaw to race in France.
  • The Accademia d' Italia, set up in 1929 in imitation of France, never had any real prestige or significance although it numbered among its members a few men of real merit.
  • Weigand got really mad when he found out that Dell numbered Handgun Control as a member of its sales affiliate program, by which companies gain fees for referrals.
include, count, reckon, deem
2Mark with a number or assign a number to, typically to indicate position in a series: each document was numbered consecutively
More example sentences
  • Coffins are being numbered and marked with pictures of the dead inside.
  • The other series, known as the piezometer series, is numbered simply 1 to 104.
  • Intron positions were numbered consecutively beginning at the N-terminus of the alignment.
assign a number to, mark with a number;
itemize, enumerate
2.1Count: strategies like ours can be numbered on the fingers of one hand
More example sentences
  • And thy servant is in the midst of thy people, which thou has chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.
  • The number of subjects that I could discuss with my parents and claim genuine common experience could be numbered on the fingers of one hand.
  • The few which manage to maintain the consistency and flow necessary to repeated listening can be numbered on the fingers of one hand.
calculate, count, total, compute, reckon, tally;
assess, tot up
formal enumerate


The construction the number of + plural noun is used with a singular verb (as in the number of people affected remains small). Thus it is the noun number rather than the noun people that is taken to agree with the verb (and is therefore functioning as the head noun). By contrast, the apparently similar construction a number of + plural noun is used with a plural verb (as in a number of people remain to be contacted). In this case, it is the noun people that acts as the head noun and with which the verb agrees. In the latter case, a number of works as if it were a single word, such as some or several. See also collective noun (usage) and lot.



any number of

Any particular whole quantity of: the game can involve any number of players
More example sentences
  • It can involve any number of players and anything can be traded.
  • You can play a game any number of times, however, and the course will always be different.
  • Spite and Malice can easily be adapted for any number of players.
1.1A large and unlimited quantity or amount of: the results can be read any number of ways
More example sentences
  • Coetzee presents a tensely connected web of longing that pulses with meaning and can be read at any number of levels.
  • The Associated Press is also covering the story, which can be read in any number of places.
  • It's insanely dense too, with each scene capable of being read in any number of ways.

by numbers

Following simple instructions identified or as if identified by numbers: painting by numbers
More example sentences
  • It is one of those variations of painting by numbers where figures are human years and the colors are usually photographs.
  • ‘It's politics by numbers,’ says one strategist, for Conservatives to try to drive up the salience of an issue where they're out front.
  • It is 15 years since his critically-acclaimed debut, Let Love Rule, and Kravitz has headed straight for the comfort zone with another of his CDs by numbers.

by the numbers

Following standard operating procedure.
Example sentences
  • Thankfully, this new film avoids playing by the numbers and follows its own dead-on instincts.
  • It's what I'm beginning to call news by the numbers.
  • Will Smith's Hitch is a racist, homophobic, by the numbers, boring romantic comedy filled with blatant product placements.
3.1All together with a shouted-out count.
Example sentences
  • You count off seven to ten seconds by the numbers, give a wing wag, and break left and down in a 90-degree bank.

someone's/something's days are numbered

Someone or something will not survive or remain in a position of power or advantage for much longer: my days as director were numbered
More example sentences
  • Any manager will tell you that if you lose the dressing room you can still survive, but lose the supporters and your days are numbered.
  • To the terrorists I say this, your days are numbered.
  • Now, once a trial balloon is floated like that, your days are numbered.
limit, restrict, fix

do a number on

North American informal Treat someone badly, typically by deceiving, humiliating, or criticizing them in a calculated and thorough way.
Example sentences
  • Gwyneth Paltrow says motherhood is doing a number on her memory.
  • Before it fades away entirely, though, Hitchens does a number on the Kennedy presidency.
  • It will knock your socks off - and do a number on your libido!

have someone's number

informal Understand a person’s real motives or character and thereby gain some advantage.
Example sentences
  • If the cops have your number, you will be screwed no matter how law-abiding you are.
  • Yep, there are plenty do-gooders are out there and they have your number, baby, trust me.
  • They can't easily strike in the Middle East precisely because Syria, Egypt, Algeria, etc. have their number and have undertaken massive actions against them.

have someone's number on it

informal (Of a bomb, bullet, or other missile) destined to find a specified person as its target.
Example sentences
  • You just didn't know whether the next bullet or shell had your number on it.
  • As a batsman or an umpire a ball always has your number on it and if I made a mistake, so be it.

someone's number is up

informal The time has come when someone is doomed to die or suffer some other disaster or setback.
With reference to a lottery number or a number by which one may be identified
Example sentences
  • Although it must be tempting to tell someone that you love that you love them when you know your number is up, if you also know the true perpetrator of a crime that someone else is suspected of, surely you are duty bound to blurt that out first.
  • It doesn't seem to displace much air hence they have little warning, and once they come in contact with the ‘strings’, their number is up!
  • He has even arranged for his body to be returned to Tibet for a traditional sky burial when his number is up.

without number

Too many to count: they forgot the message times without number
More example sentences
  • These examples could be multiplied almost without number.
  • This is in sharp contrast to the stand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which has made no such commitment and reiterated times without number that it shall accept only a favourable judicial verdict!
  • In today's Highlands, the march of the modern means that the hills support unsaleable sheep and the shores inedible shellfish; salmon are caged and deer without number pollute the bens.
countless, innumerable, unlimited, endless, limitless, untold, numberless, uncountable, uncounted;
numerous, many, multiple, manifold, legion


Middle English: from Old French nombre (noun), nombrer (verb), from Latin numerus.

  • The source of number, and of enumerate (early 17th century) and numerous (Middle English), is the Latin word numerus. The first written use of your number is up was by the English essayist Charles Lamb in a letter written in 1806, in which the reference is to someone drawing a winning ticket in the ‘lottery of despair’. Other suggestions have been made as to the phrase's origins. One links it to various passages in the Bible that refer to the ‘number of your days’, meaning the length of your life. Another proposes that the number in question is a soldier's army number, associated with identifying casualties on the battlefield and the fatalistic expectation of a bullet with ‘your name and number’ on it.

Words that rhyme with number

Columba, cumber, encumber, Humber, lumbar, lumber, outnumber, rumba, slumber, umber

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: num·ber

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