Is *dozen* an adjective?



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?


Posted 2013-09-23T17:41:33.600

Reputation: 1 226

1The 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 – 2013-09-23T18:37:32.740

@TylerJamesYoung- In two dozen bananas, what will dozen be- noun or adjective? I am sure, two is adjective here and bananas is noun. – Ramit – 2013-09-23T18:42:21.533

How can dozen ever function as a noun? – Peter Flom – 2013-09-23T18:49:35.463

@PeterFlom- Do you eat almonds? In dozens! – Ramit – 2013-09-23T18:51:41.547

@PeterFlom - Baker, to customer: "Would you like some fresh rolls? They're on special today." Customer: "Sure! Give me a dozen, please." – J.R. – 2013-09-23T19:02:35.510

@J.R.- If I ask, 'How many bananas are there in that basket?' One may reply, 'A dozen.' So, according to you, is dozen a noun here? – Ramit – 2013-09-23T19:06:49.187


@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. – 2013-09-23T19:19:41.723

Sure, it's a determiner. But I was asking what part of speech it is. – Ramit – 2013-09-23T19:30:06.030

It's the same part of speech it would be if you said "a dozen rolls"; the "rolls" is just implied. e.g. "Is it hot today?" "Very!" - very is still an adjective. – Peter Flom – 2013-09-24T10:13:59.240

@PeterFlom- In your example, very is an adverb, I believe. – Ramit – 2013-09-24T11:50:58.080

@PeterFlom You want an example? I can give you a dozen! – David Richerby – 2014-04-03T18:39:11.713



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.

Roaring Fish

Posted 2013-09-23T17:41:33.600

Reputation: 1 323

@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 – 2015-11-27T20:59:14.387

If you can put an article or determiner in front of it, it's not a modifier or adjective. You can "nounify" many adjectives, e.g. "The blue" is typically equivalent to saying "The blue one." – LawrenceC – 2015-12-14T23:55:49.283


  • 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.
  • < – Ramit – 2013-09-24T04:41:21.030

    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.

    – Ramit – 2013-09-24T04:44:13.687

    1When 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 – 2013-09-25T17:47:09.937

    1I am not insisting that ten is an adjective. Quite the opposite. Please read more carefully... – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-25T18:27:46.190


    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.


    Posted 2013-09-23T17:41:33.600

    Reputation: 8 304


    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.

    Greg Hullender

    Posted 2013-09-23T17:41:33.600

    Reputation: 788

    Why is 'two dozens of bananas' considered wrong? – None – 2015-08-27T03:20:23.283

    @Jay: it's impossible to define parts of speech entirely by semantic criteria, though, so you need to rely on formal criteria of some sort. Adjectives are not the only type of word that can describe a noun. In the phrase "the dog in the house that is wagging its tail," the words "the," "in," and "wagging" describe the word "dog"; but one is an article, one is a preposition, and one is a participle. – sumelic – 2015-11-28T07:26:55.953

    @GregHullender: I know you're intentionally simplifying things in your answer, but I think you take several rather large leaps in "I assume that you have no problem seeing that "ten" is an adjective. Therefore you must agree that "hundred" is also an adjective." Why must "ten" be an adjective, and why does that mean that "hundred" is also an adjective? (Is the indefinite article "a/an," which also indicates number, an adjective?) – sumelic – 2015-11-28T07:31:49.173

    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 – 2013-09-23T18:50:24.717

    @Greg- The link you quoted mentions that dozen is also an adjective and just below that there is another link which when I open says that dozen is a noun, example- a dozen eggs! It's really confusing.

    – Ramit – 2013-09-23T18:56:02.967

    @TylerJamesYoung- If Oxford would exclude special definitions, then who would include that? OALD is so rich otherwise. It doesn't miss even a single definition of many words. I wonder why it skipped cardinals and ordinals. – Ramit – 2013-09-23T19:08:38.100

    Here's a challenge for you, then. If you think dozen is a noun, how would you diagram (or parse) that sentence? – Greg Hullender – 2013-09-23T19:21:44.337

    @snailboat- that's very interesting! However, I can make a sentence from one of your phrases. The very twelve bananas that you gave me yesterday have turned into apples today! – Ramit – 2013-09-23T19:47:28.150

    @GregHullender- I am not saying that it's a noun. I would like to believe that dozen is an adjective in my sentence. I just want any dictionary to confirm that. And now with sanilboat's comment, I am doubting the adjective-ity or adjective-ness of dozen even more. – Ramit – 2013-09-23T19:51:10.527

    This is a fun problem. :-)

    I think the issue here may be that "dozen" is an adjective but it is not an adjective phrase. Nearly all adjectives in English can be phrases all by themselves, but dozen cannot. "A dozen" or "a round dozen" or a phrase like that is required.

    I agree that there's more to it, though. – Greg Hullender – 2013-09-23T20:23:54.333

    1Okay, 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 – 2013-09-23T20:49:44.263

    1@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 – 2013-09-23T21:57:32.410

    1You 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 – 2013-09-23T21:58:33.437

    It's true that no one says "The bananas are a dozen." But if someone asked, "How many bananas are there?" you might answer, "There are a dozen." That's using it as a predicate adjective. There are other adjectives that don't work in the predicate. Like, "We held a morning meeting", but "The meeting is morning"? No. "Raw materials": yes. "The materials are raw"? No. I can't think of many examples but there are a few. – Jay – 2013-09-23T22:10:59.387

    1I'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 – 2013-09-23T22:11:29.853

    @GregHullender- Your edited version is very interesting and enlightening. Adjective phrases- I never knew about that. Thanks!

    – Ramit – 2013-09-24T04:02:25.840

    @GregHullender- Oxford dictionary mentions leather as noun only. In example, it writes- a leather jacket! Are we sure we are not missing anything? Because I would like to believe that leather itself is adjective here and not just the phrase a leather.

    – Ramit – 2013-09-24T04:48:08.063

    @GregHullender ~ "Snailboat's tests (if I've understood him correctly) also show that "ten" isn't an adjective" - WordNet: NounS: (n) ten, 10, X, tenner, decade (the cardinal number that is the sum of nine and one; the base of the decimal system) ~ American Heritage: noun The cardinal number equal to 9 + 1. ~ Memidex: noun the cardinal number that is the sum of 9 and 1; the base of the decimal system – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-24T05:01:43.893

    @RoaringFish- If we go by this link, ten is a Definite Numeral Adjective.

    – Ramit – 2013-09-24T06:13:00.403

    @snailboat- If you say dozen is a noun, can you please add which type of noun it is? I'll appreciate if you write a separate answer for it. – Ramit – 2013-09-24T06:24:38.083

    @Ramit: Ten can be a subject: ten would be nice; or a subject: There are the ten I brought; it can be plural *There are tens of them, or even hundreds". These are all defining characteristics of a noun. – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-24T07:31:35.280

    @Ramit: In contrast, it cannot be graded: that is very ten X. It cannot be extreme: that is really ten! X It cannot be included in an adjective sequence: the big, ten, red car X An adjective should be able to do those things. – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-24T07:36:33.367

    @RoaringFish- okay. I wish you could categorise it. I mean is it abstract noun? I don't think so. Is it common noun? No way. Is it collective noun? Na. I wish you could help me here. – Ramit – 2013-09-24T07:46:39.573

    If you want to go into it deeply, "ten" is a determiner. Linguists separate determiners from adjectives for a variety of reasons, some of which you're stumbling onto. But this forum is for English Language learners and I thought a deep discussion of determiners vs. adjectives would be unhelpful. If you really want a specific term for determiners like "ten" and "dozen," I have seen them called "numerics" in the literature. – Greg Hullender – 2013-09-24T16:51:21.143

    Please don't patronise me by telling me what linguists do. I know very well what they think and do. Yes, numbers are determiners, which are not adjectives so your answer is still wrong. As determiners modify the reference of the noun, in many languages are an affix of a noun, and always display most of the characteristics of a noun, they are more noun-like than adjective-like and keeping it simple should mean calling it a noun. If you want to go 'deeply' into it, ten is a numeral (not a numeric...) which is a sub class of quantifier, which in turn is a subclass of determiner. – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-25T18:24:07.427

    I don't mean to be patronizing. I'm just telling you you're wrong. You're wrong about plurals too, by the way. You probably agree that "blue" is an adjective, yet I hope you'd accept a sentence like "The picture is remarkable for the variety of blues and reds." You simply seem to be making rules up as you go along without even trying to see if they really work. I think that's a bad thing to do on a site used by people who are trying to improve their use of the language and have to trust native speakers to tell them the truth. – Greg Hullender – 2013-09-25T18:29:42.613

    If I am wrong, then explain how your adjective can be the subject of a sentence, the object of a sentence, be countable, and modify a referent but cannot be graded or used with other adjectives. – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-26T01:26:02.280

    As for "the blues and reds", this is clearly a noun because it has a determiner in front of it. From WordNet "Noun S: (n) blue, blueness (blue color or pigment; resembling the color of the clear sky in the daytime) "he had eyes of bright blue" You really need to brush up on your word classes: they describe the function of the word, not the word as you believe, and 'blue' can obviously function as a noun. BTW, drawing a parallel between 'ten' and 'blue' is pointless. 'Blue' is an attribute. 'Ten' isn't. They are completely different animals. – Roaring Fish – 2013-09-26T03:40:44.767

    @snailboat I am not a linguist. That said, "It's true that some adjectives fail predicate tests or gradability tests, but they don't usually fail every test we can throw at them--how would we know they were adjectives!?" I find this statement puzzling. would think that we determine if an item fits in a category by examining the definition of that category, not peripheral characteristics. If someone asked me, "Is Bob a native Australian?", the only relevant fact would be whether or not Bob was born in Australia. If someone said, "No, he's not, because all the Australians I know have ... – Jay – 2013-09-26T19:57:04.933

    ... brown hair and Bob has blond hair, and all the Australians I know say 'G'day mate' and Bob doesn't", I'd think that was all pretty much irrelevant. An adjective is generally defined as a word that describes, modifies, or qualifies a noun. I would think that in "dozen eggs", "dozen" describes or qualifies "eggs" by specifying how many. In the same way that words like "some", "many", and "more" might describe "eggs". Are you saying that those aren't adjectives either? – Jay – 2013-09-26T20:00:58.870


    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?


    Posted 2013-09-23T17:41:33.600

    Reputation: 129

    Should be "There are a dozen pens on the table." – Jeffrey Kemp – 2015-08-27T08:03:21.700

    @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. – 2015-08-27T09:11:24.130

    1That 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 – 2015-08-27T11:47:09.253