There are about a dozen bananas in this basket.

There are about twelve bananas in this basket.

I know that there are some adjectives that show quantity. So, twelve is an adjective for sure. However, regarding dozen, I've some reservations. Oxford dictionary mentions dozen as noun only.

So I want to know, in the above sentence, is dozen a noun or an adjective?

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    The phrase “a dozen” is functioning as a perfect synonym of “twelve” here and both are cardinal number adjectives. The noun “dozen” acting as a noun (and not a number) is actually somewhat rare. – Tyler James Young Sep 23 '13 at 18:37
  • @TylerJamesYoung- In two dozen bananas, what will dozen be- noun or adjective? I am sure, two is adjective here and bananas is noun. – aarbee Sep 23 '13 at 18:42
  • How can dozen ever function as a noun? – Peter Flom Sep 23 '13 at 18:49
  • @PeterFlom- Do you eat almonds? In dozens! – aarbee Sep 23 '13 at 18:51
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    @Ramit - It depends on who you ask. I like the camp who say that it's a special class of word called a determiner. That's how some dictionaries (like Collins) list the word. – J.R. Sep 23 '13 at 19:19

Dozen is not an adjective. Snailboat has already given a lot of reasons why it can't be an adjective; another is that dozen can take the inflection -s - dozens - and no English adjective can do that. Not even on those occasions when an adjective is being used as a noun. Then we say "the old" or "the poor", not "*olds" or "*poors".

Dozen can take a determiner: a/the/a few/my dozen. It can be counted: two/three/four dozen. It can be a plural: we have dozens. In short, it is a noun.

Don't be misled by dozen apparently modifying another noun. Nouns can modify nouns, as in work clothes, Oxford student, or the inevitable car park.

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    1. How about woolen clothes? Have you packed your woolens? 2. I have many white dresses. I am advised to wash whites with colored ones. Similarly leather, solid, light etc are the adjectives which can take s at the end and can become nouns. – aarbee Sep 24 '13 at 4:41
  • I really liked your work clothes example. I am tending to have second thoughts now. But car park is just one word. It's un-parse-able. – aarbee Sep 24 '13 at 4:44
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    When a noun modifies another noun, it is typically equivalent to reversing the order and adding "of". E.g. "Student of Oxford." When you cannot do this, the combination is generally a single, open-compound noun. E.g. "work clothes" or "car park." The key question is, will you insist that "ten" is an adjective but "hundred" is not? Because hundred has all of the problems you attribute to dozen. – Greg Hullender Sep 25 '13 at 17:47
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    I am not insisting that ten is an adjective. Quite the opposite. Please read more carefully... – Roaring Fish Sep 25 '13 at 18:27
  • @RoaringFish - Colors can and are used as plurals when nouns. From James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James": "Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose..." – WhatRoughBeast Nov 27 '15 at 20:59

dozen is originally a noun. Eggs were sold in dozens because one or two eggs can easily break. Even today you get eggs in six-packs. As it is a genuine noun meaning twelve things, you say a dozen eggs or dozens of things. As dozen describes a number it has taken on certain features of numerals. You say two dozen eggs (withoutplural-s). You dont say of in a dozen eggs, not: a dozen of eggs.

It is better to look up a dozen in a grammar. A dictionary isn't a substitute for a grammar and does not give full information about numerals that are nouns and have some features of numerals.

And don't get confused when some dictionaries say dozen is an adjective. They mean dozen can be used as an attribute or subelement before a noun. English grammars use adjective as a term for a word class and also as a term for the sentence element attribute. And this double use of the term adjective leads to confusion.

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In the example sentence, dozen is an adjective of quantity. It modifies bananas.

Merriam-Webster agrees that dozen can be an adjective. Not sure why Oxford omits that.

An interesting point came up in the comments, so I'll use that to improve the answer.

I assume that you have no problem seeing that "ten" is an adjective. Therefore you must agree that "hundred" is also an adjective. But "hundred" has exactly the same problems as "dozen." I can say "I bought ten bananas" but I cannot say "I bought hundred bananas."

The reason is that although most bare adjectives are also complete adjective phrases, a few of them (e.g. dozen, score, hundred, thousand) are not. You need some other determiner like "a" or "the" to complete the phrase. Adjectives combine with other words to make adjective phrases. Adjective phrases can then modify nouns (helping make noun phrases) and do the other things you think of adjectives as doing. Adjectives (in modern linguistics) do not directly modify nouns; only phrases do.

All of the objections to "dozen" failing as an adjective are actually objections to it failing to be an adjective phrase. It is an adjective; it's just not a phrase.

Examples: We can coordinate "a dozen" with another adjective phrase.

"There were a dozen or more bananas."

That clearly shows that "a dozen" is not a noun phrase in this sentence because "more" is not a noun phrase. If you agree that "more" is an adjective phrase in this sentence, then "a dozen" must also be.

The distinction between words and phrases is critical for understanding the behavior of nouns and verbs, but we can usually ignore it for adjectives. This is just one of those cases where we can't.

Final note: strictly speaking, words like "ten" "dozen" and "more" are called "determiners" not "adjectives" by linguists today, but that's a complication I didn't want to introduce.

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  • Almost any noun can function as an adjective. Cardinals (and ordinals) are sort of special and could probably use a mention there, but I think the OALD is thinking it'll be less confusing if they omit special definitions like this. (Consider the above “above”, which is acting as an adjective, even though it is a preposition.) – Tyler James Young Sep 23 '13 at 18:50
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    Okay, I'm sure that's it. All of the rules you think you know for adjectives are really rules for adjective phrases. But since nearly all bare English adjectives are valid phrases, the distinction rarely comes up. Bare words like "dozen," "hundred," and "thousand," however, cannot be phrases. Now for some examples to speak to snailboat's concerns: "The bananas are a dozen. Give two to each kid." "Get twenty or a dozen bananas, whichever is cheaper." "I'm glad I bought an extra dozen bananas." The head noun example didn't make sense to me. – Greg Hullender Sep 23 '13 at 20:49
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    @snailboat We don't say "the red dozen bananas" but we do say "the dozen red bananas". I think that's just a convention, that numbers tend to go first in a list of adjectives. It doesn't make sense to say "the twelvest" because something can't be more or less twelve: it is or it isn't. We don't say "the uniquest" or "the lastest" or "the Europeanist" either, but "unique", "last", and "European" are adjectives. Some adjectives just don't have a degree. – Jay Sep 23 '13 at 21:57
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    You can say "I ate the biggest banana" and also "I ate the biggest", or "We had a yellow banana and a red banana, and I ate the red." Some adjectives work as stand-alones with an implied noun and others don't. – Jay Sep 23 '13 at 21:58
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    I've edited my response to incorporate some of this. The last few points you guys are making relate to the distinction between determiners and adjectives that I was trying to avoid, given that the answer is meant for non-native speakers wanting to know if "dozen" is a noun or an adjective. Snailboat's tests (if I've understood him correctly) also show that "ten" isn't an adjective either. That isn't going to help the OP. – Greg Hullender Sep 23 '13 at 22:11

There are a dozen pens on the table.

Although this seems odd, if we go back to basic English and diagramming, we will see that "dozen" is used as a "definite numeral adjective" here, "a" is an "adjective article", and "pens" is the noun.

When used with the indefinite article, certain numeral adjectives require the singular version of the indefinite article (a/an) in front of it (a few, a dozen, a hundred, a million, a billion, etc) instead of a plural indefinite article (some) or no article at all in English, even though they are describing something plural.

A dozen apples in the tree...

A billion stars in the universe...

Although "apples" and "stars" are plural, they are referred to as singular objects when used with these definite adjectives. However, "apples" and "stars" ARE still the objects here.

If we leave out the objects,

A dozen in the tree

A billion in the universe

then, and only then, do these numeral adjectives, become nouns, which must have another noun to refer to. I can't say "He went to the store," without knowing who "he" is. There is a billion in the universe. A billion what?

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  • Should be "There are a dozen pens on the table." – Jeffrey Kemp Aug 27 '15 at 8:03
  • @JeffreyKemp - I think the jury's still out on that. To quote one website: The decision to regard ‘dozen’ as singular or plural ultimately lies with the writer. – J.R. Aug 27 '15 at 9:11
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    That very link you refer to regards the plural as "better". The singular would apply instead for the sentence "There is a pack of a dozen pens on the table." – Jeffrey Kemp Aug 27 '15 at 11:47

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