The head of the American postal system recently lamented the fact that a first-class stamp costs only 46 cents:

If you think about 30 billion pieces [of mail] at today’s rate of 46 cents apiece, it’s almost $14 billion that we've lost.

What does apiece modify in that sentence? Or does it modify an ellipted verb?

  • 4
    I'd analyze "apiece" as a pronoun which refers back to "pieces [of mail]", means "for each one", and is used as an adjective modifying "46 cents". It's called an adverb in the dictionary because English lexicographers use adverb for all words that they don't know how to classify. Aug 11 '13 at 16:06
  • It doesn't modify anything: it means "per piece [of mail]", as in 46 cents an ounce (or per ounce); $2 a bottle (or per bottle); $5 a pint (or per pint).
    – TrevorD
    Aug 11 '13 at 17:42
  • 3
    And as such is a fused prepositional phrase. The dictionaries sadly often use 'adverb' to mean 'none of the other 7 classically accepted parts of speech'. Aug 11 '13 at 18:13
  • I wouldn't analyse it as a pronoun, the sentence is nonsensical if you substitute a more usual pronoun such as he/she/I/we/they/it. It is true that the term "adverb" is a big of a grab-bag of different things. It does modify though in that it adds clarity about the price being per unit and not for the whole lot or per dozen, etc. Aug 27 '13 at 9:50

Apiece in this sentence simply specifies the going rate for postage on each individual piece of mail "lost". The phrases "for each" or "per item" also capture the meaning quite well.

Another good example would be buying ten apples at a total cost of $10. While these may be expensive apples, some basic math would show that one apple costs $1. We could then say that you bought $10 worth of apples "at $1 apiece".

  • 1
    Per piece or for each one would be preferable to ?per each, but +1 for the rest Aug 11 '13 at 21:29
  • There we go. That's exactly what I was looking for. Thanks.
    – David G
    Aug 11 '13 at 21:40
  • Many teachers have told me that since "apiece" is an adverb, it must modify a verb. I have always had the feeling that it was "something" modifying the noun. I am very glad that some of you experts agree.
    – james
    Aug 12 '13 at 10:49

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