In the question What part of speech are "plus", "times", and "minus", we discover that plus is a preposition, and are left to assume that so is times, in phrases such as "five times six".

That seems to make sense to me.

However, I checked Oxford Dictionaries, and it states that times is a plural noun.

Not to be won over by the lesser sibling, I checked the OED.com and found, to my surprise, the same answer:

A. n. ...
II. A point of time; a moment in time; a space of time considered without reference to its duration; an occasion, an instance. ...
19. In pl. Preceded by a number (in words or figures). ...
b. Followed by a number or an expression of quantity: expressing the multiplication of this by the preceding number.
Conventionally represented by the multiplication sign: 4 × 5 is read as ‘four times five’.

How is times, in e.g. "Four times five is twenty.", considered a noun?

  • 2
    Times doesn't go with plus and minus. Multiplied by and divided by do.
    – corsiKa
    Jan 29, 2016 at 23:22
  • 3
    Multiplied by means times. I think the equivalent for divided by would be over. So, yes, it does "go with" plus and minus. Jan 29, 2016 at 23:40
  • Considering that you can say "I am timesing four by five", "four was timesed by five" times must be at least sometimes a verb. Of course it's very awkward to pin any word class on times, but calling it a noun is nonsensical. I wouldn't say this is at all a nonstandard usage. In "four times five is twenty" I'd call times a stative verb, which is why it appears uninflected. Jan 30, 2016 at 13:25

9 Answers 9


I think it depends on how you perceive the word. For example, Merriam-Webster defines times as a preposition meaning:

multiplied by: 'three times two is six'

in the same way it defines minus:

[preposition] used to indicate that one number or amount is being subtracted from another

All 5 other dictionaries I can check now, Wiktionary, Collins Online Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fifth Edition (2011), Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary © 2010, Dictionary.com define it as a preposition.

If times is classified as a (plural) noun, three times two would be a three-word compound noun where the first and second noun usually function as a noun adjunct which modifies the last noun as in "health care center" or "Obama Byden administration". The role of the noun times in the middle is not very clear.

However, if times is classified as a preposition, times two in "three times two" will be a prepositional phrase which can post-modify the noun three.

Three times two is six. Three minus two is one.
The book on the table is mine. The book under the table is yours.

We can notice that the times/minus two works in the same way as on/under the table as a post-modifying prepositional phrase. Times seems to be closer to a preposition than a noun.

  • The way I perceive it, is that when you talk about, say, an event, you'd say :"It happened three times". In this case, would you analyze "times" as a preposition? The event i is "happening/multiplied" by 3 occasions. I think, but I've got no source for that, hence a comment, that's why "times" is considered a noun. "2 times 3" is a way of saying "2,(happening) 3 times". It'd be awkward to say, and people instead use 2 Times 3. Putting the noun before the numeral to avoid confusion. Think about this: "how many times did you multiply it by?" You cannot "many" anything but a noun.
    – P. O.
    Jan 29, 2016 at 13:18
  • @P.Obertelli I am in the middle of editing my post, but since you asked. If you contrast "the book on the table is mine" and "the book under the table is yours", you see the prepositional phrase is post-modifying the noun book. I think times and minus in "2 times/minus 2" work in the same way.
    – user140086
    Jan 29, 2016 at 13:23
  • 1
    Yeah, I saw that. That was an interesting question.
    – haha
    Jan 29, 2016 at 14:18
  • 2
    @rathony, in fact 'times' in this sense is a verb, at least in British English. The OED lists it as such (see my answer below). Although - in Merriam Webster,an American Dictionary, does indeed list it as a preposition. The joys of English!
    – Jascol
    Jan 29, 2016 at 14:24
  • 2
    Peter Shor's 'None of the traditional parts of speech fits them perfectly' is correct and his 'but in my opinion preposition comes closest' a good working hypothesis (once the confusion about the different senses OP should avoid on ELU has been dealt with). Jan 29, 2016 at 16:36

The Oxford Dictionaries define minus as a preposition, which is inconsistent with their definition of times as a noun.

The mathematical operations minus, plus, times have a different syntax than most of English, and this apparently confuses grammarians. None of the traditional parts of speech fits them perfectly, but in my opinion preposition comes closest.

  • 1
    You're saying Oxford is wrong???
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 29, 2016 at 13:06
  • 4
    @HotLicks One should never trust a dictionary for parts of speech. Better to go to a reputable grammar, which is where the dictionaries get their parts of speech from - with a fifty year time lag. Jan 29, 2016 at 13:23
  • 4
    @Hot Licks I'll certainly say that ODO is wrong here. Jan 29, 2016 at 14:35
  • 2
    I'd argue that, as 'add/plus', 'minus/subtract/take', and 'times' all signify operations, they are at least equally close to verbs. But I agree that they are not central members of traditional word classes (I'd go further and say they're not members of traditional word classes) and they're certainly not nouns in the a * b = c usage. Jan 29, 2016 at 14:44
  • 3
    @EdwinAshworth "Add", "subtract", and "multiply" are verbs. Sometimes people use "times" as if it were "multiply" ("Times that number by ten") but it is nonstandard usage. However, "plus", "minus", and "times" (standard usage) do not describe actions. Jan 29, 2016 at 17:57

The phrase four times five means five, four times i.e. five, five, five, five.

In this context, I think the meaning of it is similar to the meaning of times in "Once, twice, three times a lady". It's basically stating four occurrences of five, which, when totaled, equal twenty.

In the arithmetic, it's used idiomatically to describe multiplication. The fact that it looks similar in construction to four plus five is coincidental.

By this reasoning, times is a plural noun in the phrase four times which functions as an adjective describing the amount of fives.

  • 5
    With your reasoning, "one times five" would be incorrect, right?
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 29, 2016 at 16:51
  • @MrLister That would appear to be the case.
    – Patrick87
    Jan 29, 2016 at 17:57
  • 2
    At first glance, it seems at least plausible that this interpretation ("five, four times") explains the origin of this meaning of the word "times". But meanings and parts of speech change over time, and Mr Lister's example strongly implies that even if the word "times" in "four times five" was once a plural noun, it no longer is.
    – David K
    Jan 29, 2016 at 22:35

The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (By Bas Aarts, Sylvia Chalker, Edmund Weiner) defines times as a marginal preposition (along with less, minus and plus).

marginal preposition: a preposition that shares one or more characteristics with other word classes. For example, many marginal prepositions share certain features with verbs or adjectives.

Among the marginal prepositions are less, minus, plus and times.

  • What's five times six?
  • He arrived minus a ticket.
  • Sounds like a definition that is grasping at straws ;) Jan 30, 2016 at 13:28
  • @curiousdannii: or covering all the bases. It is a grammar term and this is not the only source mentioning it.
    – ermanen
    Jan 31, 2016 at 22:47

You are misinterpreting the second definition. They are not talking about multiplying numbers, as in "eight times five equals forty". They are talking about expressing the number of iterations you performed an actions, as in "I ran around the track eight times".

  • No, OP didn't misinterpret. There are examples like "<number> times <number>" under that definition. The definition has this subnote also: "Conventionally represented by the multiplication sign: 4 × 5 is read as ‘four times five’."
    – ermanen
    Jan 29, 2016 at 19:18
  • I think that is a bad example on the oxford dictionaries part, as the rest of the examples they give are like mine. Also, don't know where OP got "Conventionally represented by the multiplication sign: 4 × 5 is read as ‘four times five’." but I can't find that anywhere on the linked page
    – Kevin
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:24
  • OP mentioned that it is from OED.com. It is not accessible by public, you need subscription. Also, the sense of "times" you are talking about is different. OP didn't say anything about it.
    – ermanen
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:30
  • Yes he did. "19. In pl. Preceded by a number (in words or figures)"
    – Kevin
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:57
  • You need to know how OED works. It is the general parent definition of subdefinitions. It doesn't say or prove much by itself and there can't be specific examples for that general parent definition.
    – ermanen
    Jan 29, 2016 at 21:08

Let's examine some sentences similar to "Four times five is twenty.":

"Four plus five is nine."

"Four and five are nine."

In the latter sentence, "and" is clearly a conjunction. I think there is a good case to be made that "plus", and "times" are conjunctions, (as the statement is not about either four or five individually, but about a combination of them) with "minus" and "divided by" having progressively less of a conjunctive character and more of a noun-modified-by-prepositional-phrase (or participle) flavor:

"Five from nine is four"

"Nine minus five is four"

"Twenty divided by five is four"

Higher-order mathematical operations seem even more solidly in the latter camp:

"Four squared is sixteen" (participle "squared")

"Four raised to the fifth power is 1,024." (participle modified by prepositional phrase)

"Four to the fifth power is 1,024." (prepositional phrase)

  • 1
    Notice that in "four and five are nine" you use "are" vs "is". The sentence structure is entirely different. It's equivalent to saying "Sue and Fred are a couple".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 29, 2016 at 18:40
  • @HotLicks "Is" and "are" are both forms of "be". I've certainly heard people say "four and five is nine"; I just happen to prefer the plural form. Jan 29, 2016 at 19:25

I think to label plus and minus (and times) as prepositions is incompetence of dictionaries. As "minus" is a Latin comparative it is principally an adjective form which was adopted in mathematics as an operation sign. The same is true for "plus". Dictionaries may declare minus and plus are prepositions, but actually it is nonsense to label mathematical operation signs as prepositions.

50 minus 10 means 50 diminished by 10. I can't see what "diminished by" has to do with a preposition.

"times" can be a normal plural as in "in olden times" and it can be an operation sign in mathematics, also called operator in mathematical terminology. 50 times 10 is/equals 500 - here times means "multiplied by", and I would hardly call that a preposition.

  • This is unrelated to the question. The question is about nouns. Jan 29, 2016 at 21:37
  • No. The question is about, times, plus and minus.
    – rogermue
    Jan 30, 2016 at 5:27

That dictionary entry is wrong. I assume it was an oversight.

When "times" is used to represent multiplication it's a preposition, as has been adequately explained by several of these answers, and as it is listed in most dictionaries.

"Times" is a plural noun when used in a different context:

  • These are strange times.
  • How are your forty times?
  • We had some good times.

"Times" could definitely be a noun depending on context, such as "These are strange times we're living in." or "My times in the 5k have been improving due to my new speed intervals workout routine."

  • 3
    Please re-read the question. This has nothing to do with what is actually being asked. Jan 29, 2016 at 15:52
  • This has a lot to do with what is being asked, they just left out the logic connecting it. This is when times is a plural noun, not when it's used in multiplication.
    – DCShannon
    Jan 30, 2016 at 5:49
  • Precisely, I demonstrated when it IS a plural noun, when used in multiplication, it is a verb. Dec 27, 2016 at 3:38

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