We say 'hundreds of', 'thousands of', 'millions of', even 'tens of thousands of', but not 'tens of'. The usual expression is 'dozens of'. Does anyone know why?
Counting in 12s is a lot older than 1000s or millions. The traditional units based on 12 and 60 go back to the Babylonians, while 1000s mostly date back to the C18 metric system.
Indians also count in lakhs (100,000) and Crore (10,000,000)
We don't say tens of unless we are referring to larger numbers (tens of thousands, tens of millions, etc.). As pre-metric as it may be, here in the U.S. we say dozens for quantities between ~40 to ~100, which is approximately where tens would be appropriate if it were used.
That said, there is nothing wrong with referring to "tens of" something. It just sounds funny.
For whoever downvoted me, here is a little perspective on the NGram issue brought up by onomatomaniak:
You can clearly see that when you compare dozens of to tens of for a couple of these identical constructions, the usage of dozens far outstrips tens. The only anomaly is when the noun modified is "miles," which is interesting but probably an outlier.
This illustrates the problem with Google NGrams. If you don't look at the orders of magnitude on the left, the "big jumps" can look very compelling. In fact, by comparison here the "tens of" lines, so compellingly vertical in the above graphs, vanish into flatlining insignificance.
I conclude from this graph that "tens of" is, as I say, falling out of usage, and is being supplanted by "dozens of."
We do say "tens of." Or at least, I and other English speakers do. It may not be as common as dozens of, but it's hardly unheard of.
Here's an Ngram of three phrases I chose rather randomly. Note that all exhibit increasing usage in recent decades.
On second thought, I realized tens of miles was probably the way I've heard it used most often, so I added that in. The result:
And, not to leave the metric system out, here's that graph plus tens of kilometers.
We do say "tens". The OED:
B. n. (With plural tens; and (less usually) possessive ten's.)
A set of ten things or persons. ten of rupees, a unit of account in Indian money.
OE Rule St. Benet (Corpus Cambr.) xxii. 47 Tynum and twentigum on anum inne ætgædere restan mid heora ealdrum.
1539 Bible (Great) Gen. xviii. 32, I wil not destroye them for tens sake [1885 Bible (R.V.) for the ten's sake].
1611 Bible (A.V.) Deut. i. 15, I‥made them‥captaines ouer tennes.
1894 Field 9 June 839/1 They came forth in their tens, for thirty-eight members turned out on the occasion of the first meet.
1895 Westm. Gaz. 4 Sept. 5/1 The revenue was better by 74,000 tens of rupees.
1897 C. M. Flandrau Harvard Episodes 94 One never said of Wolcott, as is said of some fellows, ‘He made the first ten of the Dicky’.
I really like the idea to use NGram and I played with it a bit. It revealed one thing all the answers before missed: "Are you using British or American English?"
The phrase "tens of" is only one half as popular as "dozens of" in American English, but it's use is the same in British English. Check for yourselves.
So I believe it is related to the use of metric system and other cultural habits. To me as a European non-native speaker "tens of" sounds perfectly fine and possibly preferable inn certain cases. Unless referring to eggs, of course, where dozen is the only and ultimate way to count them.
protected by NVZ Jan 25 '18 at 12:05
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