18

Let's say we have the numeral "12,345". Why is it pronounced as "twelve thousand three hundred and forty five" as opposed to "twelve thousands three hundreds and forty five". Are 's's omitted while pronouncing numerals to make the whole thing more succinct and easier to pronounce?

15

Because in English "twelve thousand" is not interpreted as 12 occurrences of 1000, as in 12 cars, but rather as one occurrence of 12000. Why it's like this, is a matter of speculation.
Languages are different and I guess some languages view 200 as a plural, as two occurrences of 100. English and Dutch do not, and French, as 200_success points out, swings both ways: 200 being deux cents, but 201 being deux cent un.

  • 200 is plural in Russian as well. – user132181 Nov 5 '14 at 16:44
  • 5
    "Why it's like this, is a matter of speculation." It's also the question being asked here today. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 5 '14 at 18:13
  • 3
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Indeed it is. However, to some questions the answer is "it is like it is and nobody really knows why" :) – oerkelens Nov 5 '14 at 18:43
  • 1
    consider twelve hundred cars. It would be "twelve thousand, three hundred and forty five". It is all singular because it is all one singular amount of the item. – JamesRyan Nov 5 '14 at 20:22
  • French goes both ways: "deux cents" for 200, "deux cent un" for 201. – 200_success Nov 5 '14 at 20:43
13

In English words are pluralized only if they are used as nouns, so if we pluralize a number, we treat it like a noun:

My telephone number contains three fours.

Thus if you say:

twelve thousands, three hundreds, and forty-five apples

this would mean you have only 45 apples, and that you also have 12 thousands, and 3 hundreds. Of course, this wouldn't make sense, because how can you "have" a number like a thousand?

So, if we are using a number as a quantifier, not as a noun, we don't pluralize it.

Another way to look at this is by building up the phrase from smaller parts. First, let's multiply the number of things we have. Compare:

an [apple] (singular)

twelve [apples] (plural)

with

a [thousand apples] (already plural)

twelve [thousand apples] (still plural)

Next, let's add numbers of things we have. Compare:

red apples, green apples, and yellow apples

red, green, and yellow apples

with

twelve thousand apples, three hundred apples, and forty-five apples

twelve thousand, three hundred, and forty-five apples

  • you can have twelve thousands of apples. – Sparr Nov 5 '14 at 21:11
  • And you can have hundreds and hundreds of apples. – tobyink Nov 5 '14 at 21:23
  • @Sparr: in the 19th century you can, but the usage has almost vanished. It does follow what Dan says here ("I have twelve thousands" "thousands of what?" "of apples"), but the information here isn't enough to explain why people used to say that but pretty much don't any more. – Steve Jessop Nov 5 '14 at 21:23
  • 3
    @jbarker2160: sorry, I've lost track of what game we're playing. Are we talking about saying "twelve thousands of apples" as a pure synonym for "12000 apples" (in which case we should not be telling English-language learners that it's common modern usage), or are we trying to think of rare situations (such as apples being sold in 1000-packs, which personally I have never seen) where that sentence could occur? ;-p But sure, for something that comes in packs you might ask for "a thousand of paperclips" or "two thousands of paperclips" or "two 36s of donuts", although it's not the most common. – Steve Jessop Nov 5 '14 at 22:06
  • 1
    @Sparr and tobyink the key word there is "of." You've removed the number from being an adjective that directly modifies the word "apples," so that usage is now valid. – Crazy Eyes Nov 5 '14 at 22:34
9

There is not necessarily a logical grammatical justification. In the case of million, usage patterns have shifted.

"Two millions" vs. "Two million"

According to Google Ngram, "two millions" has long been the standard expression. However, starting around 1850, its usage declined while "two million" rose in popularity. Around 1920, "two million" became the new norm, and today "two millions" is rarely used.

Google Ngram of "Two millions" vs. "Two million"

"Two thousands", "Two hundreds"

In contrast, neither "two thousands" nor "two hundreds" has ever been accepted usage.

Google Ngram of "Two thousand(s)" and "Two hundred(s)"


If I had to speculate on the reason for the difference, it is probably because million has Latin origins, whereas hundred and thousand have Germanic origins. Therefore, the Old English-based inflection rules have always applied to hundred and thousand, but the French-based rules for million have only recently started giving way.

  • Very interesting. Any information on how exactly "millions" used to be used? – Dan Getz Nov 6 '14 at 3:06
  • @DanGetz From The Gentleman's Magazine, 1841, chronicling proceedings in the House of Commons: "He thought it would be requisite to make up the permanent revenue to fifty millions sterling per annum." … "There was now an aggregate deficiency of five millions, and a calculated deficiency of two millions more for the year to come." – 200_success Nov 6 '14 at 3:57
  • I have expanded on this answer here. – 200_success Nov 6 '14 at 5:29
1

One might explain the singular of "thousand" and "hundred" as in 5,400 in this way: five standing for a unit of one thousand and four standing for a unit of one hundred.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.