A day's rest / a day of rest

col37400

Member
English - UK
I'm just curious to know why this is:

You can say

"a year's imprisonment" as an alternative to "a year of imprisonment"

"a minute's silence" as an alternative to "a minute of silence"

but not

"a pound's butter" as an alternative to "a pound of butter"

"three metres' linen" as an alternative to "three metres of linen".

Two things intrigue me: firstly, why is the apostrophe alternative acceptable at all (it's not as if the imprisonment "belongs" to the year, or the silence "belongs" to the minute)? Secondly, why does the apostrophe option seem to be OK for quantities of time, but not quantities of anything else (as far as I can work out)?

If anyone can answer this for me I would be very grateful!

Thanks!

(This question has arisen from another discussion about whether you should say "ten years imprisonment" or "ten years' imprisonment". I say it should be the latter on the basis that you would say "one year's inprisonment" rather than "one year imprisonment.)
 
  • johnp

    Senior Member
    There is a difference between a true possessive (belonging to, ownership) as opposed to an adjectival label. For example, there is an adjectival label (sometimes called an "attributive noun") ending in s with the need for a possessive. Sometimes it's not easy to tell which is which. Do you attend a writers' conference or a writers conference? If it's a group of writers attending a conference, you want the plural ending, writers. If the conference actually belongs to the writers, then you'd want the possessive form, writers'. If you can insert another modifer between the -s word and whatever it modifies, you're probably dealing with a possessive. Additional modifiers will also help determine which form to use.
    • Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdown passes. (plural as modifier)
    • The Patriots' [new] quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, threw three touchdown passes. (possessive as modifier]
    The pound and metre are not possessing the butter and linen. The year(s) is/are possessing the imprisonment, so you need the apostrophe.
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    There is a difference between a true possessive (belonging to, ownership) as opposed to an adjectival label. For example, there is an adjectival label (sometimes called an "attributive noun") ending in s with the need for a possessive. Sometimes it's not easy to tell which is which. Do you attend a writers' conference or a writers conference? If it's a group of writers attending a conference, you want the plural ending, writers. If the conference actually belongs to the writers, then you'd want the possessive form, writers'. If you can insert another modifer between the -s word and whatever it modifies, you're probably dealing with a possessive. Additional modifiers will also help determine which form to use.


    Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdown passes. (plural as modifier)
    The Patriots' [new] quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, threw three touchdown passes. (possessive as modifier]
    Thanks for your reply. I understand all of the above.

    However:

    The pound and metre are not possessing the butter and linen. The year(s) is/are possessing the imprisonment, so you need the apostrophe.
    Firstly I don't understand why the year should "possess" the imprisonment.

    In the option where you don't use the apostrophe - "ten years of imprisonment" it doesn't seem to me that the "of" is indicating possession. It is there as part of a construction indicating a quantity "of" something (I'm sorry I don't know the technical term for this).

    Secondly, even if one did accept that the year somehow "possesses" the imprisonment, why is it any different in the case of the "pound of butter"? By the same logic you would say the pound somehow "posesses" the butter.
     

    johnp

    Senior Member
    Here is one of the rules regarding using the apostrophe:

    Using the Apostrophe with Expressions of Time

    The apostrophe is also used with many expressions of time (to show that the time period owns the other noun):
    an hour's time; a year's holiday
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    Here is one of the rules regarding using the apostrophe:

    Using the Apostrophe with Expressions of Time

    The apostrophe is also used with many expressions of time (to show that the time period owns the other noun):
    an hour's time; a year's holiday
    Oh, I don't dispute that it is correct/conventional useage: I'm just intrigued as to why quantities of time seem to be seen differently to other types of quantities in this respect.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think you need to pay attention to the intonation that changes with the phrasing: "A day's rest" vs. "A day of rest".

    "A day's rest" sounds like it is simply an arbitrary day that has been taken to recover from work (or some other effort).

    "A day of rest" sounds faintly biblical to me. "Sunday is a day of rest." This sounds like a specific day that has been assigned for resting.

    The same holds true for "a minute's silence" as an alternative to "a minute of silence".

    "A minute's silence" sounds like an arbitrary period of one minute duration that is to be silent.

    "A minute of silence" sounds like an assigned period specified for silence. (Usually phrased as "a moment of silence").
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It looks as if col37400 is not looking for more information about the use of apostrophes in this context, or querying the meaning of a day of rest. The thread topic is clearly expressed in post #1 and again in post #5.

    Oh, I don't dispute that it is correct/conventional useage: I'm just intrigued as to why quantities of time seem to be seen differently to other types of quantities in this respect.
    That's a curious point, sure enough.
    The day no more owns the rest than the pound the butter.
    In both cases the first is the measure of the second.
    Is it mere convention that time measures get an apostrophe?
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I believe that measurements of time are not tangible like a "quart of milk" or a "pound of butter", but rather they are "segments" of a continuum.

    So we have a "month" which is one twelfth of a year.

    We have a "week" which is 1/52nd of a year.

    We have a "day" which is 1/7th of a week.

    We have an "hour" which is 1/24th of a day.

    We have a "minute" which is 1/60th of an hour.

    Etc.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Interesting suggestion - but isn't a pound sixteen ounces, or a fourteenth of a stone?
    Ah, the continuum - time is different because time happens anyway, butter doesn't - or something like that.
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    It looks as if col37400 is not looking for more information about the use of apostrophes in this context, or querying the meaning of a day of rest. The thread topic is clearly expressed in post #1 and again in post #5.
    Yes, that's right.

    That's a curious point, sure enough.
    The day no more owns the rest than the pound the butter.
    In both cases the first is the measure of the second.
    Is it mere convention that time measures get an apostrophe?
    It does seem that it is mere convention. Usually these conventions develop because it makes something more convenient or avoids some sort of confusion (even if seemingly "illogical"), but I can't see why this one would have. Or at least, why it would have for quantities of time but not for other types of quantities.

    I can see why it might be convenient to be able to say "a minute's silence" instead of "a minute of silence ", but then equally, it would be convenient to be able to say "a pound's butter".
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    I believe that measurements of time are not tangible like a "quart of milk" or a "pound of butter", but rather they are "segments" of a continuum.

    So we have a "month" which is one twelfth of a year.

    We have a "week" which is 1/52nd of a year.

    We have a "day" which is 1/7th of a week.

    We have an "hour" which is 1/24th of a day.

    We have a "minute" which is 1/60th of an hour.

    Etc.
    I'm not quite sure how or why this is relevant though.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I'm not quite sure how or why this is relevant though.

    Time is unique in that it is a continuum. It can be parsed out or segmented only.

    Other things can be segmented too:

    A glass of water.

    A plate of food.

    A tank of gas.

    etc.
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    When you say it's a continuum... you mean it has no start or end? OK, but I don't really understand what the relevance of this is, to this particular question, or why this should result in it being treated differently from, say, distance.

    When you say it can be parsed out or segmented only: what other ways can't it be quantified or divided, that, say, distance can?
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    When you say it's a continuum... you mean it has no start or end? OK, but I don't really understand what the relevance of this is, to this particular question, or why this should result in it being treated differently from, say, distance.

    When you say it can be parsed out or segmented only: what other ways can't it be quantified or divided, that, say, distance can?

    Distance like space can be thought of as a continuum but we don't ordinarily use the concept as such. We use distance, conventionally to as a measure of "from here to there". So, New York is 1,500 miles from Miami and 3,000 miles from Los Angeles. I suppose we could find a use of distance to show a continuum but I don't think we conceptualize distance like that. Space is similar. The room was 16 feet by 20 feet. The football field was 160 feet by 300 feet (360 feet with the end zones). I've been told that space is infinite. I don't conceptualize it like that and I think that language was created before that concept was put forth.

    All that being said, I don't know that the "of" was created because time is a continuum that can be divided only (conceptually, not figuratively) while space and distance can be divided conceptually and figuratively.
     

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    I'm not sure that time was necessarily conceptualised as infinite before language was created either, though.
     
    Last edited:

    col37400

    Member
    English - UK
    It's also used conventionally as a measure of "from here to there" - it takes a day from one sunrise to the other, or it will take 20 minutes for your rice to cook, or I was asleep for two hours longer than the other guy. (Or, indeed, it takes 30 days on horseback from New York to Miami - or whatever it would take). The fact that it may be "infinite" has little bearing on the way it is viewed in these practical situations.
     
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