Dozen: Singular or Plural?
Referring to a recent post, a reader wants to know why I wrote, “Here are a dozen common subordinating conjunctions” and not, “Here is a dozen common subordinating conjunctions.”
Because I was referring to what I regard as twelve distinct conjunctions with different uses, I treated dozen as a plural.
Dozen is a collective noun, like committee. Collective nouns name groups of people or items. If the group is seen as identical or as acting in unison, the noun is treated as singular. If individuals in the group do not act in unison, the collective noun is treated as plural. For example:
The committee has agreed to appropriate money for new sidewalk.
The committee are in disagreement as to the importance of a new sidewalk.
The same rule applies to dozen. If dozen is regarded as a group of undifferentiated items, it takes a singular verb and singular pronouns. If dozen refers to a collection of individual persons or things, it takes a plural verb and pronouns.
On the Google Ngram Viewer, the construction “Here are a dozen” far outnumbers “Here is a dozen,” but the reverse is true in a Web search.
Although common, the singular construction “here is a dozen” is unidiomatic when it is followed by what are clearly distinct items. The construction is often used to introduce lists, as in these examples:
Here is a dozen top aquariums around the country.
Here is a dozen resources for every student.
The decision to regard dozen as singular or plural ultimately lies with the writer.
If the dozen consists of items that differ from one another in some marked way, then dozen should be regarded as plural. For example, the aquariums are all in different cities; the resources are of different kinds.
Here are a dozen top aquariums around the country.
Here are a dozen resources for every student.
The writer’s decision should be made on the basis of the noun that follows dozen and not because dozen is preceded by the indefinite article a.
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9 Responses to “Dozen: Singular or Plural?”
Rewording the sentence can often relieve the awkward sound: “The committee members are in disagreement as to the importance of a new sidewalk.” The members, after all, are the ones who are disagreeing.
Another common example is the use of “couple.” If the couple is acting in unison, then the singular is used: “The couple is on a date.” If they are acting independently, then the plural is used:
“The couple are arguing with each other over the bill.”
An alternative might be: “The diners are arguing with each other over the bill.” However, this only works if it doesn’t alter the meaning or intent of the context; the preceding example could be focusing either on the couple or on the argument that they’re having.
“Dozen” strikes me as a different kind of collective noun from “committee” because it refers to a specific number and is like using the word “twelve.” I can’t imagine saying “A dozen eggs is needed to make an omelette for six people.”
Also, I would rewrite “The committee are in disagreement,” which sounds awkward, as “Members of the committee are in disagreement,” or “There is disagreement in the committee.”
Since the sentence exhibits an expletive structure (Here is/Here are), the subject of the sentence follows the verb. In this particular sentence, I would suggest that the noun “dozen” functions as an adjective modifying/describing the plural noun “conjunctions,” that your verb “are” is actually agreeing in number with “conjunctions,” not “dozen.”
Totally agree w/Bill, and the example of eggs is exactly what came to mind. There are a dozen eggs in a carton. Here are a dozen eggs. Maybe the explanation given by Larry Barkley is more applicable here. I also agree that the “committee” example is awkward, and I agree with the recasting proposed by Bill. I think the same would apply to the word “staff,” and I would also revise a sentence from “The staff were in disagreement” to “The staff members were in disagreement.” It is not the staff, as an entity, that is in disagreement with itself; it is individual members who disagree with each other.
Dozen is possibly different in some cases because it refers to a specific number, but it is still “a” dozen. That is why it seems it should be singular. “Here is a dozen eggs” sounds fine and correct to me, as does, “Here is a pair of keets for your birdcage.” Likewise, “The committee is reconsidering its numbers”, and, “The committee is divided about its position.” And in all similar cases: the team is, the family is, the group is, the public is, the government is, etc.
Thanks for all the constructive criticism. I’m going to take another run at this one.
Ought not the plural of “aquarium” be “aquaria” and not “aquariums”? That is how it was taught to me at Eton, being told it was the queen’s English and all that.
Many thanks! I’m pretty good with grammar, but this was something I didn’t know.
@venqax: When the entity is functioning as a unit, is unanimous or acting/thinking as one, I agree with using the singular form (“The family is going on vacation” or The committee is recommending new guidelines.”). When the entity is internally divided, you now have at least two factions, making it plural (IMO). “The staff (or better, the staff members) were in disagreement as to how to handle the money.”