Some [number] [plural noun] means "approximately [number] [plural noun]". For example:

Some seven speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

= About seven speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

He had some thirty jellybeans and threw up.

= He had about thirty jellybeans and threw up.

Some [plural noun] means (roughly) "more than one [noun]". For example:

Some speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

= A number of speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

He had some jellybeans and threw up.

= He had jellybeans and threw up.

But some words that mean numbers aren't syntactically numbers (numerals) but instead nouns, like dozen and score and hundred and quintillion and googol: a dozen eggs, two score years, several hundred people, a few quintillion seconds, but no *a two eggs, *two three years, *several four people, or *a few five seconds.

What does some [that kind of word] [plural noun] mean? For example:

Some dozen speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

He had some hundred jellybeans and threw up.

Does some have the meaning in these sentences that it normally does before a number, "approximately", or that it normally has before a plural noun, "more than one"? In other words, do those example sentences mean:

About a dozen speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

He had about a hundred jellybeans and threw up.

— or do they mean:

Dozens of speakers preceded me, so no one listened to my speech.

He had hundreds of jellybeans and threw up.

—? (But of course those are just two example sentences: I'm asking about words like dozen and hundred in general.)

  • Downvoter, if there's something specific that you think can be improved in this post, I'd appreciate your letting me know. – msh210 Aug 5 '16 at 17:06
  • I'd like to clear up one point first: 'a/one hundred' is a numeral just like 'three', 12, ninety-nine, one hundred and one, 102. 'Hundred' doubles as a noun like 'dozen', so one can speak of several hundred, several dozen, but not several ninety-nine/s, several one hundred and one/s (except in say darts scores). See Wikipedia. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 5 '16 at 17:08
  • @EdwinAshworth, yes, I know. I was asking about some hundred specifically. You can't write *some a hundred any more than you can write *some three. I've edited to clarify. Thanks. – msh210 Aug 5 '16 at 17:15
  • 2
    A second thought (I'm progressing, I hope!): 'Some' tends to be used with more commonly used 'quantity-markers': some dozen, some thousand, ??some billion, ??some gross [of]. Your question is a good one, though; the answer is not at all obvious. (3) The 'some' construction is formal in register. (3b) 'He had some hundred jellybeans and threw up.' sounds off, probably because the registers are incongruous. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 5 '16 at 17:20
  • Some is an indefinite article used for plurals, and it does not modify the specificity of the target the way approximately does. Instead, it signals an unspecified subset. If you say some dozen bottles fell off the shelf, you know how many fell, but not which ones. Same with the jellybeans. There was a big bowl of them. He ate some thirty and was sick. He ate thirty, but you're not saying which thirty. Some does not work like about, around, or approximately. You have to get the sense of specificity from elsewhere. – Phil Sweet Aug 5 '16 at 21:42

In some cases, at least, some dozen means "some twelve", not "some number of dozens":

  • "some dozen or two of varieties" [link]
  • "some dozen or sixteen lines" [link]
  • "some dozen open-air localities" [link]
    • My confidence about the meaning of this last one is because this book very frequently uses phrases like "some half dozen", "some three dozen", "some dozen and a half", etc., to the point that it seems to be an idiosyncrasy of the author. So bare "some dozen" is almost certainly part of that.

And while searching for the above, I also found this paragraph making the same claim:

But before substantives determined or to be conceived quantitatively some appears in the singular or plural, not so much to mark the fraction of a quantum, as the quantum itself, as indefinite, inexact, or approximate: My father had the full view of your flourishing style some hour before I saw it (Ben Jons, Ev. Man in his Hum 3, 1.). About some half hour hence (Shaksp., Cymb. 1, 2.). If I may counsel you, some day, or two, Your highness shall repose you at the Tower (Rich. III. 3, 1.). I would detain you here some month or two (Merch. of V. 3, 2.). Some dozen Romans of us (Cymb. 1, 7.). Bastards, some dozen, or more (Ben Jons., Fox 1, 1.). Some five and twenty years (Shaksp., Rom. a. Jul. 1, 5.). Some six years ago or more (Carl., Fred. the Gr, 5, 5.). Some four miles distant from one of our northern manufacturing towns . . was a wide and desolate common (Bulw., Maltrav. 1, 1.). Surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable (Dickens, Christm. Car. 1.). All the ladies save some twenty score (Byron, D. Juan 8, 130.). If here an, a should appear instead of some in most cases, no essential difference, will arise. Some and an are distinguished syntactically by the formers answering, except with collective numbers, to an original plural form. [From An English Grammar: Methodical, Analytical, and Historical, by Professor Maetzner, translated to English by Clair James Grece.]

Here are some examples with hundred, thousand, etc., that also seem to have this same sense:

  • Love be planted in my heart even the more, blossom and multiply some thirty some sixty some hundred fold. [link]
  • At one instant they [="the broken clouds"] were suddenly cleared away, and discovered to the view a lake that lay probably some hundred feet below, and looking like a small basin of water, or a round hole through the world, so that the sky was visible beyond. [link]
    • Seems to be giving an estimate; the "probably" would be strange if the estimate were not at least somewhat precise.
  • The drive, some thousand miles, would take him two days. [link]
    • The drive in question seems to be to Houston from somewhere in Arizona, so one thousand miles is a reasonable approximation. (And two days is a reasonable estimate for an unaccompanied driver.)
  • In contrast, there are many incentives and attractions in receiving European and North American countries that have increased the number of skilled Arab migrants to some million.
    • The same page uses "some 2 million workers", "some $232 billion", and so on, which is why I'm reasonably confident that it's this sense of some.

Also perhaps relevantly, the decline of some dozen, some hundred, and some thousand over the past 150 years correlates pretty well with the decline of the unambiguous some half dozen (see Google Books Ngram).

None of the above, however, demonstrates that some dozen/hundred/etc. never means "some number of dozens/hundreds/etc.". So the phrase could still be ambiguous. But I've found only one case where it does seem to mean that:

twenty-eight thousand and some hundred guilders. [link]

and the more I think about this case, the more I think it does actually mean something like "28,100 or so", with the same sense as the above example.

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