How do say this in words?

A $2,000 worth of items.

If I put it into words: A two-thousand dollar/dollars worth of items.

Which is the correct way here?

  • 15
    The "a" is wrong in the first place. Does knowing that help? – Catija Jul 11 at 0:23
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – J.R. Jul 12 at 0:54
up vote 32 down vote accepted

@Catija's answer is very close and covers the major points, but slightly wrong.

Which is the correct way here?

A two-thousand dollar/dollars worth of items.

Neither.

You're treating 'worth' as the subject of your sentence and acting like it's countable, but it's not. 'Worth' is treated in English as a single abstract quality, like 'information' or 'knowledge'. You generally don't speak of 'worths' unless (and this is unusual) you're discussing a group of separate uncountable worths.



If you want to keep 'worth' as the subject, it should be

$2000 worth of items

read as "two thousand dollars' worth of items", as they are items with a worth of two thousand dollars. It's pretty common for native speakers to forget the numeral should be possessive and to omit the apostrophe. It always has been common. It's still technically wrong.

As this treatment at the English Stack mentions,

These cases aren't tricky if you ask yourself the following question: how would you write "one dollar's worth"?

There's still an s because it's a possessive, not a plural.



If you want to keep the countable aspect, it should be

A $2000 item

Like Catija said, that should be read as "a two-thousand-dollar item" because nouns being used as attributive adjectives almost always get used in their singular form. You've changed the meaning, though: you're talking about a single item with a value of $2000 rather than several items collectively valued at $2000.

  • But $2,000 (the comma isn't obligatory but I prefer writing it that way) i.e two thousand dollars is plural, the possessive apostrophe comes after the plural -s as in "two thousand dollars' worth of merchandise" – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 at 8:22
  • @Mari-LouA 'Two thousand dollars' would be plural if it appeared in any version of this sentence, which it doesn't, unless you're just making a note about the apostrophe's placement. Yes, it is the possessive plural; no, it is not the plural itself. – lly Jul 11 at 12:12
  • Your saying that speakers "forget the numeral should be possessive" suggest that the apostrophe is needed, and you write it should be read as "two thousand dollars' worth of items" This is what I have understood from your answer. But in speech, who hears where the apostrophe is placed? "Twenty dollar's worth" vs "twenty dollars' worth" the pronunciation is the same. The OP only wants to know how to "say" the phrase. – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 at 12:46
  • @Mari-LouA My saying speakers forget the numeral should be possessive refers (not refer) to the way that they understand and transcribe the reading, which is precisely what's under discussion here. No one is giving IPA transcriptions; we're talking about writing out the words. 'Twenty dollar's worth' is always going to be wrong but, again, no one was saying that at all. – lly Jul 11 at 16:09
  • 1
    I've been thinking about this section for a few minutes, and I get it, both sides. While ''lly'' is being a prescriptivist, ''Jason Bassford'' and ''Mari-Lou'' are on the descriptivist's side. Something like that. Thanks guys, @lly, if you could support your answer with a reference then it would be more fine... just my take. – John Arvin Jul 11 at 16:28

This sentence as it stands is incorrect.

You say either of these:

  • A $2,000 item. (A two-thousand-dollar item.)
  • $2,000 worth of items. (Two-thousand dollars worth of items.)

In the first case, you're talking about a single item that is worth $2,000, so you use "a" and you don't say "worth of". In this case, "dollar" is a descriptive adjective the way "year" in "twelve-year-old boy" is.

In the second case, you're talking about several items that together have a value of $2,000, so you do not use "a" because it's not singular and you use the plural forms of "dollars" and "items". "Dollars" here is a unit, so it's plural to match the quantity being plural.

  • 1
    +1 I was just in the middle of typing up something similar but you saved me the trouble of finishing. :) – Jason Bassford Jul 11 at 0:31
  • Should the last sentence end with "it's plural to match the quantity being plural."? – Jasper Jul 11 at 2:42
  • 13
    In my schooling I've learned to write dollars' in this context, with a trailing apostrophe. That's because it could be rephrased as "item having a worth of two thousand dollars" – Wilson Jul 11 at 7:35
  • 2
    @Wilson, I think it should be ''AN item having a worth of two thousand dollars'' you need the indefinite article right? – John Arvin Jul 11 at 16:03
  • 1
    @noɥʇʎԀʎzɐɹƆ: I believe that you are muddying the waters. Would you say “Two thousand dollars of merchandise” or “Two thousand dollars of labor”?  I wouldn’t; I find them awkward. I believe that “Two thousand dollars of gold” is acceptable only because gold has historically been used as a form of money / currency; it’s more like “two gallons of water” than it is like “(whatever) of items”. – Scott Jul 11 at 20:49

This follows colloquial English and should be the definitive answer, taking (worth of) as a prepositional phrase.

Two thousand dollars worth of items

We can say:

  1. $2000 is a NOUN and here
  2. Worth of acts like a preposition, (it's a little colloquial)
  3. Worth of items is a prep. phrase (prep. + noun)

Of course if we were to write

$2000 item

a Two thousand dollar item

Two thousand is an ADJECTIVE, and therefore, no -s.

a is an ARTICLE used for the countable noun item

  • I think you missed the article in the last example. You've just repeated the answer from the previous ones, BUT this is the clearest. – John Arvin Jul 13 at 13:44
  • 1
    Everyone is just writing answers, I wanted to provide the actual grammar – sboy Jul 14 at 19:39

When you have a number with units as an adjective before the noun, you use a hyphen between the number and the unit and the singular version of the unit.

I wouldn't touch this question with a 10-foot pole.

When the unit is the noun, then there's no hyphen and whether the unit is singular or plural depends on the value.

That pole is 10 feet.

With dollars, it can be confusing because we write the dollar sign before the numeral but we say the unit ("dollars") after the number.

A $10 watch. A ten-dollar watch.

The watch costs $10. The watch costs ten dollars.

The hyphen rule can also get complicated when the number contains more than one word, because sometimes the number will have an internal hyphen and sometimes it won't, depending on the value and which style guide you follow.

The burglar took my two hundred-year-old rocking chair.

This can get so complicated, the it's often helpful just to revert to digits when the number has more than one word. Fortunately, many style guides will encourage you to use numerals in this case anyway.

The burglar took my 200-year-old rocking chair.

Another point of confusion, as pointed out by lly, is when the value is actually possessive. Note the apostrophe here:

The burglar took five thousand dollars' worth of stuff.

It's very common, even in professional writing, to forget the apostrophe in phrases like the one above. Note that if you use a currency sign and numerals, you're more likely to get away with it:

The burglar took $5000 worth of stuff.

Technically, the "$5000" should be written as "$5000's." Confusing, right?

Here are some more examples that illustrate all these ideas.

For Nate, college was a 6-year odyssey.

For Nate, college was a twelve-semester odyssey.

It took Nate six years to earn his degree.

He ended up three hundred thousand dollars in debt.

He ended up $300,000 in debt.

He ended up with three hundred thousand dollars of debt.

He ended up with three hundred thousand dollars' worth of debt.

He ended up with a three hundred thousand-dollar debt.

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