Tuomo Pekkanen's grammar (§92.1) explains how to express the number of something that is expressed by a plural-only word. Numbers greater than one are expressed with bini, trini etc. but a single one is not singuli. The cardinal number unus is used instead.

For example: unae scopae, binae scopae, trinae scopae… (The actual example given in the book is una castra.)

This strikes me as odd. But then again, Latin grammar is occasionally odd. I would like to have verification or falsification for this rule. Are there classical use examples like "one broom" (unae/singulae scopae)? What do other modern grammarians say on the topic? Is unae correct and singulae incorrect?

Perhaps the neuter plural una (as used in the book's sole example) looks a little less suspicious than unae, but I still find it weird.

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    On a tangential point, your “occasionally odd” comment invoked my reading of the Lomonosov's 18th c. grammar of Russian, one of those first describing the modern language. If I understand him, a distributive numeral is used for people, unless the whole group is all-female. But it gets worse than that. He notes it would be "impolite" to use a distributive when referring to (male) persons of noble status, so "two dukes" or "three archbishops" call for a cardinal, not a distributive. And Arabic inverses numeral's gender in some cases. Latin is amazingly regular compared to these! Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


This is a tricky thing to explain, but:

Unus is the cardinal 'one', which has plural forms that are used with plural-form nouns such as castra and scopae. In such cases it is proper to write una castra or unae scopae.

Singulus is used distributively — 'one for each', and so on — and is not to be confused with singularis, 'single' when an adjectival use is intended.

Rather confusingly, the distributive forms of numerals are used as if cardinals when describing more than one of the plural-form nouns. Thus, singulae scopae and binae scopae refer to the numbers of separate brooms, while unae scopae is (just) one broom.

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