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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