a. A member of the set of positive integers; one of a series of symbols of unique meaning in a fixed order that can be derived by counting.
b. A member of any of the following sets of mathematical objects: integers, rational numbers, real numbers, and complex numbers. These sets can be derived from the positive integers through various algebraic and analytic constructions.
2. numbers Arithmetic.
a. A symbol or word used to represent a number.
b. A numeral or a series of numerals used for reference or identification: his telephone number; the apartment number.
a. A position in an ordered sequence that corresponds to one of the positive integers: the house that is number three from the corner; ranked number six in her class.
b. One item in a group or series considered to be in numerical order: an old number of a magazine.
5. A total; a sum: the number of feet in a mile.
6. An indefinite quantity of units or individuals: The crowd was small in number. A number of people complained.
a. A large quantity; a multitude: Numbers of people visited the fair.
b. Numerical superiority: The South had leaders, the North numbers.
8. Grammar The indication, as by inflection, of the singularity, duality, or plurality of a linguistic form.
a. Metrical feet or lines; verses: "These numbers will I tear, and write in prose" (Shakespeare).
b. Obsolete Poetic meter.
10. numbers Archaic Musical periods or measures.
11. numbers (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Games A numbers game.
12. Numbers (used with a sing. verb) See Table at Bible.
13. One of the separate offerings in a program of music or other entertainment: The band's second number was a march.
14. Slang A frequently repeated, characteristic speech, argument, or performance: suspects doing their usual number—protesting innocence.
15. Slang A person or thing singled out for a particular characteristic: a crafty number.
v. num·bered, num·ber·ing, num·bers
1. To assign a number to or mark with a number: Did you number the pages of the report?
2. To determine the number or amount of; count: Tickets sold for the show were numbered at 500.
3. To total in number or amount; add up to: The ships in the harbor number around 100.
4. To include in a group or category: He was numbered among the lost.
5. To limit or restrict in number: Our days are numbered.
1. To call off numbers; count: numbering to ten.
2. To have as a total; amount to a number: The applicants numbered in the thousands.
by the numbers
1. In unison as numbers are called out by a leader: performing calisthenics by the numbers.
2. In a strict, step-by-step or mechanical way.
do a number on Slang
To defeat, abuse, or humiliate in a calculated and thorough way.
get/have (someone's) number
To determine or know someone's real character or motives.
Too many to be counted; countless: mosquitoes without number.
[Middle English nombre, from Old French, from Latin numerus; see nem- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: As a collective noun number may take either a singular or a plural verb. It takes a singular verb when it is preceded by the definite article the: The number of skilled workers is increasing. It takes a plural verb when preceded by the indefinite article a: A number of the workers have learned new skills.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus