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I learned that when you approximate a number with the -aine suffix, you create a feminine noun:

une centaine, une quarantaine, une dizaine...

However, in La peste by Camus (1947), I encountered this sentence:

La veille, un dizaine de malades avaient succombé dans la ville.

Research suggests that it is indeed considered feminine in dictionaries (e.g. a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h). Also, an ngram comparison flatlines the masculine variants.

However, the TLFi does have interesting notes on confusion with the masculine nominalizing suffix -ain, and L'internaute lists a masculine citation from 1895:

... à la diffusion de d'un dizaine de courts-métrages ...

Incidentally — and this may be related or it may constitute a separate question — one of the citations in L'internaute includes « plusieurs dizaine de milliers » and the TLFi quotes « aux dizaines, aux centaines, aux mille ». Is it possible that the plurality of these numbers has also changed? Could they have spent some time hovering on the edge of invariability, like adverbs?

In sum, what was the status of -aine nouns in the past? Are the exceptions just mistakes?

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  • I'd wager money on the examples you're giving being mistakes. "à la diffusion de d'un dizaine de courts-métrages" is already problematic because of "de d'un", it should be "de dizaines de" or "d'une dizaine de". Why do you say it's a quote from Larousse, I don't get that from the site we're directed to? On Camus, my Pléiade edition of "La peste" has "une dizaine de malades".
    – grandtout
    Mar 17 '20 at 20:58
  • @grandtout My copy is this 1974 edition. If « un dizaine » was corrected in a later edition, that's pretty compelling. And my mistake: I meant L'internaute instead of Larousse. Updated the link, too.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 17 '20 at 21:33
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your remark is very surprising because, as you rightly wrote, all the nouns finishing by the suffix -aine are feminine: I can add huitaine (one week), quinzaine (two weeks), neuvaine (a series of catholic prayers), douzaine (dozen) : all these are feminine. I've never read nor heard dizaine as a masculine noun, this is why I firmly believe that the two quotations you found must simply be typographic errors and nothing else.

I will add the same comment about your last quotation "plusieurs dizaine de milliers": it should have been written "plusieurs dizaines": there is absolutely no possible justification to that singular "dizaine": it is a common noun, and common nouns always take a plural form when necessary: "plusieurs dizaine" can in no way be a valid exception.

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