Is possessive measurement useful for determining meaning?

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truepurple

Senior Member
English-US
the correct form, as evidenced in punctuation guides, is '... 800 years' history' or '... 15 minutes' walk'.

a week's worth, two weeks' work
http://www.sussex.ac.uk/informatics/punctuation/apostrophe/possessives

For expressions of time and measurement, the possessive is shown with an apostrophe -s: "one dollar's worth," "two dollars' worth," "a hard day's night," "two years' experience," "an evening's entertainment," and "two weeks' notice" (the title of the Hollywood movie nothwithstanding).
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/possessives.htm
Does anyone see a way adding a possessive apostrophe like that helps determine meaning? A example where a possessive or lack there of changes meaning or makes meaning clearer would be great.
 
  • velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The river overflowed and destroyed my fences. Two weeks' work for nothing!
    Two weeks work for nothing.
    - Meaningless. Weeks don't work; people do.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The use of the 'saxon genitive' form in this context does not indicate possession, but matches its use for possession.
    This is the car of Paul. This is Paul's car.
    This is the room of the girls. This is the girls' room
    This is the work of a week. This is a week's work.
    This is a journey of three days. This is three days' journey.

    The 's or s' form associated with measurement is inherent to English.
    What would happen if we were to eliminate this form from measurements?
    ... two weeks' work
    ... two weeks work
    We might get away with that.

    But what happens if the work is to last only one week? What are we to write/say then?
    ... one week work?
    It would take a major shift in usage for that to become acceptable.
     

    truepurple

    Senior Member
    English-US
    How about "One year history"? I don't think most people would blink twice at such a sentence outside of a English teacher or something. Where as I know I would find "One years' history" odd.

    Well but, I see history as part of the measurement. You wouldn't put sixty's minutes, right? Minutes is part of the measurement. Years is part of the measurement, but also history, from my perspective.
     
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    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    With a hyphen, 'one-year history' is fine with me, except that 'one year' and 'history' seem rather a strange pairing, however they are punctuated.
    But I would expect 'One year's history is not enough for the cheese to qualify as traditional.'
    The alternative is, to me, bizarre, 'One year history is not enough ....'

    Extending to a period of time that seems appropriate for 'history', I would happily write about an 800-year-old cathedral in these terms:
    - In all of the cathedral's 800-year history ...
    - The cathedral has 800 years' history of choral excellence ...

    For me, history is the thing that is being measured, not part of the measure.
    It is equivalent to 'experience', in 'three years' experience required'.
     

    truepurple

    Senior Member
    English-US
    You would say 800 years history, plural "s" is required, feel pretty strong that is correct. Just like you don't go 60 minute ago, it's minutes, years for more than one year. If someone said to you, "The cathedral has been open for 5 year." Would you find that wrong or right? If you would find it wrong, how is your example any different?

    So let's see, "The cathedral has 2 years' history of choral excellence"? "The cathedral has 1 years history of choral excellence"?

    A year is history, just like a decade, a century or eight.
     
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    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You would say 800 years history, plural "s" is required, feel pretty strong that is correct.
    Just like you don't go 60 minute ago, it's minutes, years for more than one year.
    Basic English, OK, except that you didn't put the apostrophe in 800 years' history.
    If someone said to you, "The cathedral has been open for 5 year." Would you find that wrong or right?
    If you would find it wrong, how is your example any different?
    That is definitely wrong in standard English, though acceptable in some dialect versions.
    I'm not sure which example you are talking about - you haven't made that clear.
    Maybe you are referring to one-year history?
    In that expression, one and year are hyphenated to form an adjective: so we may have a one-year history, a ten-year history, a seventy-year history.

    In one year's history, year is a noun and takes the singular possessive form in this context. Because year is a noun, for larger numbers it must become the plural possessive form.
    So we have two years' history, ten years' history, and so on.
    So let's see, "The cathedral has 2 years' history of choral excellence"?
    Correct.
    "The cathedral has 1 years history of choral excellence"?
    Incorrect, the apostrophe is essential:
    "The cathedral has one year's history of choral excellence."
    A year is history, just like a decade, a century or eight.
    I don't agree.
    In this context, a year is a measure of the duration of the history, as are decade, century and eight years.
    History can be measured in these terms, just like experience.
    You would not, surely, say that 'A year is experience ... ...'?
     

    truepurple

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't agree.
    In this context, a year is a measure of the duration of the history, as are decade, century and eight years.
    History can be measured in these terms, just like experience.
    You would not, surely, say that 'A year is experience ... ...'?
    I meant, something that happened one year ago, is history, just like something that happened eight centuries ago. Is there a grammar correction I could have made where you would have known my meaning?

    Also, technically speak history is all of the past. In practical terms history is a point in the past, not a duration of the past. You define different points, than if you need a duration you define two points and tell the reader it happened between the points. In the example of the eight century cathedral, the two points are eight hundred years ago, and today. (considering "today" is a moving target, it's good to define that too, rather than leaving it implied. 800 years in 2015 for example)
     
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    truepurple

    Senior Member
    English-US
    < Response to deleted post removed.
    Cagey, moderator. >


    This is the room of the girls. This is the girls' room
    This is the work of a week. This is a week's work.
    This is a journey of three days. This is three days' journey.
    Let's apply this to the 800 years' cathedral.

    The cathedral has 800 years of history
    The cathedral history is 800 years.
    Today marks the 800th year of its history.

    No matter how I play with it, it's hard to figure a possessive for year.

    The cathedral has one year's history of choral excellence.
    Let's say without the possessive "The cathedral has (a) one year history of choral excellence." Is the worry that one might think the year applies to the choral excellence, rather than to the history? Seems to me these are the same thing.
     
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