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Usually when discussing monetary amounts, people will say "That cost one hundred million dollars" or "one hundred million pounds".

But I have also seen it written as "that cost one hundred millions sterling". Former UK PM Gordon Brown also used to say millions not million when giving his budget updates.

Are there rules for this usage, or is it just a question of putting the plural in the right place?

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Are you sure this is the exact context you've seen it? –  tenfour Mar 15 '11 at 11:21
See this article from The Economist in 1923. economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/03/archive So maybe it's just old, but as I mention I have heard contemporary usage too. –  Gus Paul Mar 16 '11 at 13:46

4 Answers 4

Millions is used in sentences like the following.

Millions of TV viewers are following our show.
I've got millions of beer bottles in my cellar.
We make movies for the millions.

The use of millions in these sentences is similar to the use of hundreds.

In American English, I have never seen millions in phrases like 5 millions; million is always used, in the same way thousand is used in phrases like 10 thousand.

It is true that million can be used to mean a million dollars, but millions is used in sentences like "the author is set to make millions," not in sentences like "the author thought to get 6 millions."

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Another usage: Tens of thousands. People generally do not say tens of millions but as far as I know there is nothing wrong with doing so. Fractional millions would be singular: A quarter-million; a half-million. (Should the hyphen be there?) –  MrHen Mar 15 '11 at 17:46
Here is a usage I have seen (admittedly from 1923): economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/03/archive "the present valuation of Japan's wealth would be between 5,000 and 6,000 millions." and "In order to get a sense of proportion, we may recall that the Japanese population is about 56 millions" –  Gus Paul Mar 16 '11 at 13:49
@MrHen "Tens of millions" gets Google hits running into the tens of millions. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 30 '11 at 15:47
His millions is fairly common too (meaning his huge stacks of money). –  Jason Orendorff Mar 30 '11 at 15:54

In my experience and understanding, one should use million when it is an adjective telling how many of something:

  • She earned 5 million dollars last year.
  • The city's population included 2.1 million residents.

Use millions as a plural noun:

  • They spent millions of dollars on the project.
  • Millions of people showed up at the march.

I couldn't find anything supporting phrases such as "one hundred millions sterling" but perhaps it is a British usage.

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You use million when you are speaking of a precise number, whether it is an adjective or noun. "Give me the five million that you owe me" is correct, millions would not be. The example in this question is a counterexample, of course, but I would assume "one hundred millions" to be a typo if I saw it. –  Kosmonaut Mar 14 '11 at 23:11
@Kosmonaut: Wouldn't this be worth a full answer? –  Cerberus Mar 15 '11 at 0:03
@Cerberus: I was thinking Kristina could incorporate the bit about nouns it into her answer. –  Kosmonaut Mar 15 '11 at 0:46
sorry, but it's no more a British usage than an American one. –  user1579 Mar 30 '11 at 15:25
I know Churchill used it everywhere in The Second World War. I couldn't give a citation, because the books are not in my possession right now. –  Kaiser Octavius Jul 11 '13 at 22:39

I wonder whether millions sterling derives from a misunderstanding of sterling in pounds sterling as a postpositive adjective.

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Wait -- isn't it? I don't see it as an adjective, but it definitely seems to be a postpositive modifier on pounds. As evidence: it is pound and not sterling that is inflected for the plural in one pound sterling / two pounds sterling. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 30 '11 at 15:39
I suspect this is exactly what is going on in the millions sterling example. I just don't think it's a misunderstanding. (And it doesn't explain the other cases, I don't think.) –  Jason Orendorff Mar 30 '11 at 15:41
@Jason Orendorff: OED online gives an adj. sense "appended to the statement of a sum of money, to indicate that English money is meant", which it says comes from the older pound of sterlings (=silver pennies). Which means my answer is right, except that said alteration happened centuries ago. :-) –  msh210 Mar 30 '11 at 20:31

There's a quote here from an 1896 letter, describing the results of that year's American presidential election as "7 millions to 6 millions and a half." The letter was addressed to the British ambassador, so perhaps Kristina is right that it's a British usage - but the writer was an American. So this may have been an established usage.

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