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If I'm not mistaken, tens of means 10 to 99 and hundreds of means 100 to 999. Is this correct? I found in some dictionaries that tens of is actually not correct.

I also found that hundreds of could also mean any arbitrary large number. So how would people usually interpret hundreds of? Based on context?

In my case, I want to describe numbers of some items that are usually 50-90 but sometimes could be around 100-200, but definitely not as many as 300 or so. I want to really emphasize that there are a lot of these items. In this case, can I say "... have tens or even hundreds of ..."? Would people misinterpret what I actually want to say?

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Related (more attention, but closed as duplicate): english.stackexchange.com/questions/36975/… –  Daniel Oct 13 '11 at 21:14
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In English, one would normally say "dozens of" rather than "tens of", so there is some overlap. I might use "dozens of" for an amount between 36 (a dozen, two dozen, dozens...) and 132 (a dozen less than a gross), "scores of" for a number between 40 and 199, and "hundreds of" for values greater than that. I don't think I've ever thought about the reasoning behind this; it would really depend on which number sounded better in the areas which overlap.

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As I understand it, the usage is:

Tens of -- rarely used; "as many as XX" might be more appropriate

Hundreds of -- any number from 100 - 999; "more than 500" might be more appropriate for numbers greater than 500

Thousands of -- any number from 1,000 to 9,999

Tens of Thousands of -- any number from 10,000 to 99,999

Hundreds of Thousands of -- any number from 100,000 to 999,999; after 250,000, it is more appropriate to use quarter, half and three-quarter million

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I wouldn't use hundreds for anything less than about 200 - a single hundred doesn't warrant a plural. Similarly for the other words, except tens of, which is just wrong. –  Marthaª Oct 12 '11 at 16:03
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When describing victims of a disaster, "tens of" usually means less than a hundred or a bit more, and "hundreds of" can mean up to a thousand or a few more. "Hundreds of dead" could be over a thousand, but the results are still unsure.

"Hundreds of" and "thousands of" are more common than "tens of", but if I heard the statement, I would expect "tens of" to be 30 to about 120 or so. A more common phrase for the same general amount is "dozens of".

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You can use hundreds of in sentences like the following.

It costs hundreds of dollars.
An unknown number, probably in the hundreds, had already been lost.
Hundreds of letters poured in.

In the last sentence, hundreds of is used to mean an unspecified large number.

Similarly, you can use tens of (except in sentences like the last one).

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