genitive as a descriptive attribute

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sergeyrais

Member
Russian
a three days’ absence
a two miles’ distance
a three miles' walk
a fifteen minutes' break

Is there anything wrong in the following explanation of the constructions above?

1. The
-'s genitive is possible with certain nouns denoting time, distance and measure.
2. It is possible to use plural nouns with the -'s genitive.
3. The noun in the genitive case may be used as a classifying (descriptive) attribute before a noun.
4. A noun modified with a classifying (descriptive) attribute should be used with an indefinite article
 
  • Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    As no-one else has had a go at this question, here's my halfpenny's worth.

    To me these formulations all sound idiomatically stilted, if not actually incorrect in strict grammar, though all are comprehensible.

    At least in BrE one would usually say:

    'an absence of three days' (or 'a three-day absence')
    'a distance of two miles'
    'a three-mile walk' (so too 'a three-day journey', but also 'a journey of 500 miles')
    'a fifteen-minute break', or 'a break for fifteen minutes'

    As regards the OP's explanations:

    1. English grammar usually refers to the "possessive", rather than the "genitive" - though of course, the semantic functions of the possessive forms generally overlap with those of the genitive in inflected languages such as Latin, Greek, German and Russian;
    2.It is indeed possible to use the possessive with plural nouns - but of course the apostrophe is placed after the -s plural ending (as, correctly, the OP has placed it in his examples);
    3. Yes, the genitive/possessive can be used like this - 'children's clothes', 'footballers' wages', 'the metaphysical poets' works' &c. I'm just uneasy about the specific examples here given, and would not normally refer to 'bicycles' spare parts', or 'horses' shoes'. As so often (infuriatingly for people learning English as a foreign language), English usage is much more a matter of finely tuned, and apparently inexplicable, idiom than of clear, unambiguous and universally applicable rules;
    4. It is also possible to use phrases like these with other articles or possessives, e.g.:
    'The three-mile walk'
    'Tom's 500-mile journey'
    'Our fifteen-minute break'
    'The seven-year itch'

    I'm sorry if this is not as helpful as the OP had perhaps hoped.
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with Scholiast. I'd write one week's wage and five weeks' wages. Strictly speaking of course, this isn't a possessive: the wages don't belong to the weeks. Or am I being pedantic? Either way, I doubt if I'd notice the mistake if I read five weeks wages without the apostrophe.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hullo, everyone.

    I suspect "The seven-year itch" should in fact be "The seventh-year itch" and, as such, would be the odd man out in the list. But obviously I may be wrong. :)

    GS
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I guess the phrase five weeks wages without the apostrophe has a redundant "s" in weeks and lacks a hyphen between the first two words.
    I don't understand your point, sergeyrais.

    Five weeks wages should be five weeks' wages.

    :confused:
     

    sergeyrais

    Member
    Russian
    I don't understand your point, sergeyrais.

    Five weeks wages should be five weeks' wages.

    :confused:
    I meant that the descriptive genitive five weeks' before the word wages could be substituted with a descriptive compound modifier five-week
    (five weeks' wages = five-week wages)
    The lack of apostrophe in the phrase five weeks wages turns five weeks into a compound modifier which consists of a numeral and a noun, and I suppose the latter should be in singular, but not in plural. Besides, such compound modifiers are usually hyphenated. So five weeks wages should be five weeks' wages or five-week wages. Hence without the apostrophe another mistake is quite noticeable.
     

    sergeyrais

    Member
    Russian
    I don't know anyone who talks or writes about five-week wages. It suggests that the wage, which is a payment for time worked, is computed in blocks of five weeks.
    I guess the situations may be real or unreal for the time present, and who knows what the future holds: may be the "unreality" of today will become a daily routine tomorrow. We do not know many things about space, time and matter. Nowadays nearly nobody talks or writes about five-week wages but things can change.
    But what's more important for me in your answer it is the fact that the phrase suggests something hence it is understandable, and since you didn't correct any grammar mistakes it is grammatically right.
     

    rhitagawr

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think the reason why there are hyphens in Scholiast's examples is that the walk is for three miles and the break lasts fifteen minutes etc. But the wages don't cover a distance of three miles or last fifteen minutes. They're what you get for doing something.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm wondering: we say a day wage, or a day's wages, but do we say a week wage? I've never heard anyone say that; it's always a week's wages or a weekly wage, isn't it?

    The question is what we say for longer periods. When we move up to years we talk of salaries - a year's salary, or a yearly salary.

    By analogy, in the unlikely event of someone paying in blocks of five-week periods, we'd talk of a five-week's wages, or a five-weekly wage, or salary.

    Or, and this seems more probable, we'd talk round the problem and say something like they pay a wage for five weeks, or my wage for five weeks.

    What do people think?
     

    sergeyrais

    Member
    Russian
    ... but the phrase is seven-year itch.
    I wonder if the Ordinal Numerals can be possibly used in compound modifiers?
    e.g.
    a seventh-year pupil (meaning a pupil in his seventh year of study)
    a fifth-storey shop (a shop on the fifth floor)
    a third-line mistake (a mistake on the third line)

    If the above examples are unlikely for the practical usage, I would like to know if there are constructions of this kind in English.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I'm wondering: we say a day wage, or a day's wages, but do we say a week wage? I've never heard anyone say that; it's always a week's wages or a weekly wage, isn't it?.

    What do people think?
    I think a day wage and a day's wages are entirely different things; day-wage is a compound adjective* thus the forms are there to distinguish them. A week wage is not a sufficiently exceptional concept insomuch as that it is quite normal; were it not, it would exist.

    *"In the season they would hire day-wage labourers at a daily wage of $40 but, with deductions for food and tax, a day's wages would amount to $30."
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    In response to Sergey's #15:

    Of course ordinals can be used like this:

    "The orchestra gave a first-rate performance"
    "He is a fifth-year pupil"
    "These people are being treated as second-class citizens"

    &c.
     

    sergeyrais

    Member
    Russian
    By analogy, in the unlikely event of someone paying in blocks of five-week periods, we'd talk of a five-week's wages, or a five-weekly wage, or salary.
    Whatever it meant, I still can't accept the grammatical aspect of the phrases a five-week's wages, or a five-weekly wage.
    As to a five-week's wages, I think the second word of the compound modifier should be in plural with the apostrophy after it. Besides, the hyphon is redundant in the modifiers expressed through Possesives. The indefinite article can't possibly correspond to the head noun of the phrase. So in my opinion the grammatically right variant should be five weeks' wages.
    Secondly, the phrase a five-weekly wage can't have an adjective (or adverb) weekly in the second part of the compound modifier because within the inner structure of this compound this word is modified by a numeral. So I guess only a noun is possible there:
    a five-week wage.
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    a three days’ absence
    a two miles’ distance
    a three miles' walk
    a fifteen minutes' break


    I think the problem is that I don't say any of these examples; 'a two miles’ distance' seems particularly strange and exemplifies the awkwardness:

    "The town is a
    two miles’ distance from here." :confused: "The town is two miles distant from here." or "There is a two mile distance between here and the town." :tick:

    a three day absence
    a two mile distance
    a three mile walk
    a fifteen minute break

    hyphens optional.

     

    sergeyrais

    Member
    Russian


    I think the problem is that I don't say any of these examples; 'a two miles’ distance' seems particularly strange and exemplifies the awkwardness:

    "The town is a
    two miles’ distance from here." :confused: "The town is two miles distant from here." or "There is a two mile distance between here and the town." :tick:

    a three day absence
    a two mile distance
    a three mile walk
    a fifteen minute break

    hyphens optional.

    1. What about the following example?

    A four miles' distance is better than a two miles' distance for my jogging in the morning.

    2. Could you support the idea of the optional hyphen in the compound attribute (except for the genetive compound) with a reference to some authoritative Grammar book?
     
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