Human number understanding is thought to rely on the analogue number system (ANS), working according to Weber’s law. We propose an alternative account, suggesting that symbolic mathematical knowledge is based on a discrete semantic system (DSS), a representation that stores values in a semantic network, similar to the mental lexicon or to a conceptual network. Here, focusing on the phenomena of numerical distance and size effects in comparison tasks, first we discuss how a DSS model could explain these numerical effects. Second, we demonstrate that DSS model can give quantitatively as appropriate a description of the effects as the ANS model. Finally, we show that symbolic numerical size effect is mainly influenced by the frequency of the symbols, and not by the ratios of their values. This last result suggests that numerical distance and size effects cannot be caused by the ANS, while the DSS model might be the alternative approach that can explain the frequency-based size effect.