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I'm a teenager from Chicago. I've noticed some particular usages of the words "a hundred" by people around me.

During a running workout, one student was 100 meters from the finish, while another student was encouraging him from the sideline. He said something like:

Finish that last a hundred!

In addition, I have heard the word "hundred" used with two preceding indefinite articles. I can't pinpoint any exact examples from my life, but I think I've heard people say things like this after receiving a grade on an assignment:

I got an a hundred.

I don't believe this way of stating "a hundred" rather than "one hundred" or simply "hundred" is standard in any variety of English I know, and it is certainly not grammatically correct. However, it strikes me more as an interesting colloquial, idiolectal variation than a "mistake."

There are a few ways to analyze the construction. For the first quote, we can initially surmise that "a" is replacing "one," which is a common correspondence for many speakers (but probably not in this context). Although this could be the case for the second quote (a different realization of "a one hundred") and is arguable, I think that second quote reveals a more convincing analysis - namely, that people are treating "a hundred" as one word: "ahundred." I assume that many of the speakers who make this choice do not consciously notice it, and I doubt it would be used in writing.

Does anyone know where the origin of this grammatical construction might be? Does it come from a particular dialect? Is it only common in younger urban Americans, or can it (or anything similar) be heard in other parts of the English-speaking world?

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  • I can't answer your question, because I don't recall ever hearing such phrases, but note that a nominal phrase generally contains only one determiner. In your first example, "that" and "a" are both determiners, while in your second the indefinite articles are both determiners. Therefore, neither example would usually be considered acceptable. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 2:59
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    @MarcInManhattan I understand how the rule works. Of course it’s not grammatically correct by official standards, but that’s not necessary for speech to be “acceptable.” Real, valid linguistic changes happen through “mistakes” like these. For example, the phrase “a nickname” is just a bastardization of the older “an eke-name.” Contractions are just elisions that language purists got tired of criticizing. Are those not “acceptable” to you?
    – Graham H.
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 4:14
  • You didn't mention the rule in your question, so I wasn't sure that you were aware of it. That was the only purpose of my comment. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 4:20
  • @MarcInManhattan Thank you. I’m sorry if my previous comment was a bit snarky.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 4:51
  • I really can't imagine any native Anglophone coming out with the first example above, but I certainly can imagine a kid talking about the events he competed in on his school sports day: I didn't do very well in the weightlifting, but I came second in the a hundred yard sprint. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 12:17

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OP, I find this an interesting observation and while I can't quite remember specific instances, I'd say the usage is plausible for native speakers. When counting, it's definitely standard to substitute "a hundred" for "one hundred" (and simply "hundred" is NOT standard). We say "the ninety-nine balloons," and if there's one more balloon we would say "the one hundred balloons," so using the substitution above, "the a hundred balloons" should be fine too. Similarly, if you can get "a ninety-nine" on a test, or "a two thousand" as a top score, then it would make sense that you can get "an a hundred" or "an a thousand." Most speakers in (I think) any English dialect would not accept that as standard, of course—because it gets overriden by the rule you mention, which forbids using two referring determiners together (the problem is not simply multiple determiners; it's possible to have determiners in series, as in "the ninety-nine balloons" or "both those two balloons"). There's a clear explanation of the determiner rules on the Cambridge Dictionary site here.

But to answer the question, I don't think this is dialectical exactly. More interestingly, it seems like an accidental deviation from standard usage that is prompted by an instinct for consistency in grammar. It's like when kids regularize irregular past tense verbs (the plane flied! etc.), or when people say "that's a whole nother thing." In other words, by one interpretation, neither of these usages (there are two slightly different examples) breaks any grammatical rules. The "a" can be interpreted just like the "one" in "one hundred"—as a part of the number, so not an article. "The a hundred balloons" therefore adheres to the grammatical rules for determiners (a central determiner the followed by a postdeterminer number). As for "I got an a hundred," here "a hundred" is a noun, not a determiner; the phrase clearly follows the same pattern as "I got an eighty" or "I got an eight hundred."

Nevertheless it doesn't sound right. Logical, yes; grammatical, arguably. But accepted by educated speakers? Hardly. So people who care about sounding correct will avoid it. (And consequently you might hear it more from young people than from adults.)

There's another question that kind of addresses this issue here.

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    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 0:13
  • Substituting "a hundred" for "one hundred" is NOT standard when "one hundred" comes after a determiner (e.g., "a" and "the"), in which case the standard way is to substitute "hundred" for "one hundred".
    – listeneva
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 7:32
  • @listeneva Yes, I agree—I said as much in my answer. My point is that the omission of one/a is an irregularity. The original poster suggests that this irregularity might be in the process of becoming regularized (I.e. the usages he cites will eventually be acceptable). And I think he might be right. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 18:22

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