two hours / two-hour

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cashew

Member
France
Hi All !

I'm trying to understand why in "I walked for two hours", "hour" takes an "s", while in "I did a two hour walk", "hour" takes no "s".
Does one of you know the grammar or spelling rule behind this? :confused:
 
  • Bil

    Banned
    English USA
    cashew said:
    I'm trying to understand why in "I walked for two hours", "hour" takes an "s", while in "I did a two hour walk", "hour" takes no "s".
    Does one of you know the grammar or spelling rule behind this? :confused:
    Hi Cashew

    Okay, you asked for it! Don't blame me! It's not my doing! But be prepared to roll up your sleeves and put on your thinking cap—you're about to enter the mysterious world of 'Quasi Possessives'.

    Quasi possessives are words that are seemingly but not actually 'possessive adjectives' (Mary's cat, the neighbors' home, Osama bin Laden's beard, etc.). In your example sentence, "I walked for two hours," we're dealing with a noun in its plural form rather than an adjective, so mercifully we're spared any quasi confusion.

    Some examples of quasi possessives, on the other hand, are a day's pay, a two weeks' vacation, three days' work and your money's worth. In some instances, however, as an alternative to using an apostrophe when we're modifying by way of a unit of time, we can resort to using the hyphenated form: a two-week vacation, a three-day job, a ten-year sentence for grammar violations.

    In your sentence, "I did a two hour walk," we can choose either of the two possibilities:

    'I did/took a two hours' walk' or 'I did a two-hour walk.'


    Why? I knew you were going to ask that! And the answer is 'God only knows.' By way of convention the usage has simply evolved, gradually acquiring these constructions.


     

    hohodicestu

    Senior Member
    Mexico - Spanish
    Hi cashew,

    I agree with Viera. "I walked for two hours" is used as a NOUN; on the other hand, "I did a two hour walk" is used as an adjective. we can add an "s" to a noun, but not to an adjective.

    :)
     

    flora52

    New Member
    french france
    That's true grammar rule, noun versus adjective.
    Simple isn't it?

    Obvious, my dear Watson

    Sherlock
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    pieanne said:
    Yet I've recently been told - by Brit./U.S. natives - that the quasi possessive form is almost never heard...
    The designation "quasi-possessive" is new to me, but the construction is very common.
     

    flora52

    New Member
    french france
    The expression is used all the time, and written (see newspapers).

    The grammar designation, I have never heard of it!

    But new Grammarians invent words!
     

    cashew

    Member
    France
    So if I understand all this properly, it is correct to write/say: "I did a two hours' walk" or a "3 days' trip". This doesn't sound familliar. :eek:
    Any official source or newspaper examples someone could state?
     

    Thomas F. O'Gara

    Senior Member
    English USA
    Not true! You can say "a two hours' walk" or "a three days' trip", as in "It's a three days' trip from here to the coast." At one time it was the standard way to say this in English, and it is the likely form in nineteenth century literature. It sounds a bit archaic nowadays, though, and the trend has been to create an adjective rather than use the possessive form of the noun.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It may be possible to say it, but surely the current normal form is to write (with hyphens):
    a two-hour walk
    a three-day trip
    a five-week break

    All of these are preceded by the indefinite article.
    In contexts that do not use the indefinite article, it would be two hours' walk, three days' holiday, five weeks' work

    That being the case, it is important that we make clear that a two hour's walk could be considered at best strange, and at worst incorrect, by some.


    Possessive of Dress = Dress's
    includes at post #33 a comprehensive list of WR threads discussion possessives:D

    Edit: prompted, I reinstated the hyphens:)
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Let me try to explain why I think a two hours' walk is wrong.

    Two hours' walk means a walk lasting two hours; the notion of the indefinite article is present. What would be the point of adding a second indefinite article by converting the expression to a two hours' walk? What extra meaning does the second indefinite article bring? None.

    If you are looking for a grammatical "rule", consider that adjectives are invariable, therefore if the phrase begins with the indefinite article, there can be no "S" on the end of two-hour.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    "2 hours work" is acceptable, isn't it? Is "a two hours walk" acceptable, then?
    You have added an article to the phrase.
    "A two hours walk" is not natural English, it is "a two-hour walk", or it is "two hours' walk" without the article.

    Having said that, for me "two hours work" without an apostrophe is not acceptable, but that's because I do not follow the same punctuation style as Umeboshi's unattributed quotation of Skillin et al.
    It should not be presenting one view as a universal truth about "current practice" - see http://www.informatics.sussex.ac.uk...ation/node22.html#SECTION00063000000000000000, for example.
     
    Last edited:

    ChuaTang

    Member
    Japanese
    Hi,

    Having read this thread and others similar to this one on the forum, I have some lingering questions. It seems to me that there's no unanimous agreement among the speakers of BrE and AmE as to "two hours walk" v.s. "a two hours walk".
    In the main I am concerned with the usage of the indefinite article, rather than the apostrophe, seeing as the article, or the lack thereof, draws immediate and undesirable attention in speech.
    Could you tell me in clear language which version you'd prefer better?

    1.1. I took a five minutes walk across town.
    1.2. I took five minutes walk across town.

    2.1. My work is a five minutes drive south of my apartment.
    2.1. My work is five minutes drive south of my apartment.

    Best wishes,
    Chua.

    PS: I was advised by Cagey not to start a new thread, but rather continue discussion in the existing ones http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1425753
     
    Last edited:

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the phrases with the article, the time unit (minute, hour, etc) is used attributively - as an adjective. It should not have an added s.
    1.1 I took a five-minute walk across town.
    2.1 My work is a five-minute drive south of my apartment.
    (Hyphens are optional :))

    1.2 cannot be corrected without making it the same as 1.1 or changing the form of the sentence.

    2.2 My work is five minutes' drive south of my apartment
     

    Ynez

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    It may be possible to say it, but surely the current normal form is to write (with hyphens):
    a two-hour walk
    a three-day trip
    a five-week break
    I participated (or maybe started) in one of these threads in the past and reached the conclusion that the safest way to write it is as above, singular with hyphens. But it would be good for ChuaTang and me to know which is more normal in speech, singular or plural. I would think it is the plural, but I don't really know. :)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I use the forms indicated above in speech or in writing.
    The possessive form, in which hour is a noun, uses plural forms as appropriate, but that is simply a matter of moving the apostrophe:
    - one hour's walk
    - two hours' walk
    Of course in speech that may well sound as if it is always plural.

    The other form, in which hour is an adjective, does not use plural forms because adjectives do not form plurals.
    - a one-hour walk
    - a two-hour walk.

    I don't believe I am unique - these are the forms I normally hear used by others.
     

    Ynez

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Thank you very much, panjandrum. That's good news, because I realized that it would be very difficult for me to say:

    a five minutes rest

    :D

    It's a relief to know I can say

    a five-minute rest

    :)
     
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