In the phrase “baker’s dozen”, why does the apostrophe indicate possession of a (single) baker? Shouldn't it indicate possession of all bakers in general? Shouldn’t it be “bakers’ dozen”?

  • Oddly, while "baker's dozen" is always written that way, "banker's rounding" is also written "bankers' rounding". "Farmers market" is written three different ways. – David Schwartz Apr 21 '12 at 1:10
  • To heck with English; just use Japanese. それじゃ、ベーカーのダ―ス。(Soreja, beekaa no dasu.) "Now then, baker's dozen." It could mean bakers' dozen too. Or bakers' dozens. Problem solved. :) – Kaz Apr 21 '12 at 6:01
  • If you had a married couple with the surname Baker...and they adopted 12 children...would the kids be described as The Bakers Dozen... with no apostrophe at all? – user202865 Oct 26 '16 at 7:19
  • @Peter No; it would either be the Baker Dozen (attributive noun), or Bakers' Dozen (possessive of the parents). – Andrew Leach Oct 26 '16 at 8:02

Because the dozen isn't the collective property of all bakers, but of a generic baker. It's the same reason it's a carpenter's square, a driver's license, a sailor's cap, a potter's wheel, or a greengrocer's apostrophe.

You see both farmer's market and farmers' market because there are several farmers selling at a farmers' market, so you can also think of it as a market that collectively belongs to these farmers.

  • 1
    Both Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010) give the spelling as baker's dozen, with no variant alternative spelling listed. According to MW, the expression has been around since 1596 (although surely not with an apostrophe in its earliest occurrences). – Sven Yargs Sep 1 '19 at 4:21

It is a particular "dozen" of a particular person, an individual baker — it is the "dozen of a baker," 12+1 items. The phrase is not about a group of bakers coming together to count out a dozen, or about the total number of "dozens" of the n bakers in existence, which would be (12+1)n items.

I have heard the label genitive of source applied to this construction; the 's indicates an origin or dependency which affects the meaning of the phrase. It is actually quite common in English: we may say it's a man's world but never it's a men's world, even though the former could be interpreted as saying the world belongs to an individual man. Consider expressions like soft as a baby's bottom (not babies' bottoms) or rare as hen's teeth (not hens' teeth). We wear soldier's caps, collect a day's pay, and live a dog's life.


If you know the origin of the expression you realize that the "dozen" belongs to the occupation of being a "baker" rather than to an individual baker.

So "A baker's dozen" should be understood as A + (baker's dozen) where "baker's dozen" is seen as an expression meaning thirteen rather than as (A baker)'s dozen.


It refers to a particular baker. Since we are concerned with 12+1, the collectivity of bakers is not important so we start with the origin which is one baker.