Why is there a “one” before “hundred”, “thousand”, etc. but not “ten”?

As the title says, why is there a "one" before "hundred", before "thousand", and so on, but not before "ten"?

This seems shared between some languages, including Chinese (10 = 十 = ten, 100 = 一百 = one hundred), but not others, like French (10 = dix = ten, 100 = cent = hundred).

-
Although it's not an answer, I would say 'a hundred' in preference to 'one hundred'. – Richard A Jul 26 '11 at 3:15
Let me ask a follow-up question: in pronouncing numbers such as 150, is it ever acceptable to omit the "one" and just say "hundred fifty"? (It certainly is in German, and German speakers often carry this over to English.) – painfulenglish Sep 11 '14 at 21:24

3 Answers

The simplest explanation, which does not really delve into linguistics at all, is that "ten" is not a unit that you use in multiples. That is, "20" is not spoken of as "two-tens", "50" is not spoken of as "five-tens". Thus there is no need for the disambiguation of specifying "one ten". (French seems to have decided that if you don't specify a count, "one" is assumed, as you don't say "un cent", "un mille", "un milliard", etc.)

-
Heh, 18 seconds faster than I was according to my clock. sigh +1 – MrHen Jul 26 '11 at 0:30

This may not be quite the answer you were looking for, but the reason is because English has special words for twenty, thirty and so on. There is no such equivalent for hundred or thousand or even dozen which leaves us with saying two thousand or four dozen.

-

The similarity to Chinese is probably a complete coincidence. My gut feeling as to why this is like it is in English is that, in some strange sense, "hundred" is more like "dozen"... not a number, per se, but a (dimensionless) unit of measure.

From the Wikipedia page on dimensionless quantities:

"Units of amount such as the dozen and the gross are also dimensionless."

Just to set the record straight.

-
hundred and dozen are most definitely numbers... – whoabackoff Jul 26 '11 at 14:04
@whoa: Calling them numbers may be misleading in the sense that we do not count from nine, ten, eleven, dozen. Also, compare the dictionary entries for twelve and dozen. – MrHen Jul 26 '11 at 19:07
@MrHen, The fact that we do not use dozen in place of 12 when counting is irrelevant. I don't count 1, 2, 3, pi, 4... That doesn't make pi any less of a number. – whoabackoff Jul 26 '11 at 20:47
@whoa: It is relevant in that it was an example of where dozen isn't really considered a number: All of math. `2 * 6 = 12` When choosing to write it out, you would write "two times six equals twelve" not "two times six equals dozen." You could say "two time six equals a dozen" but now you have an article in there. If you feel comfortable calling that a number, so be it. I was just pointing out that it may be misleading to consider dozen the same kind of number as twelve much like a six isn't the same "kind" of "number" as six or 6. – MrHen Jul 26 '11 at 22:35
@mrhen, That's preposterous. "Jimmy has a dozen eggs, he gives Sally half, how many does he have left?". Answer: 12 * 1/2 = 6. According to your logic, 'half' wouldn't be considered a number either? A dozen is a real number, even in Math... – whoabackoff Jul 26 '11 at 22:50