two hours / two-hour

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cashew, Jul 20, 2006.

  1. cashew Member

    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:
  2. viera Senior Member

    Paris suburb
    In a two-hour walk, the word hour is used as an adjective.
    Adjectives never take an "s".
  3. Bil

    Bil Banned

    English USA
    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.

  4. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Yet I've recently been told - by Brit./U.S. natives - that the quasi possessive form is almost never heard...
  5. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I hadn't heard of the term quasi possessives, but whatever they are called I don't think they are that rare. Here endeth my ten-second rant.;)
  6. hohodicestu

    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.

  7. flora52 New Member

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

    Obvious, my dear Watson

  8. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    The designation "quasi-possessive" is new to me, but the construction is very common.
  9. 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!
  10. cashew Member

    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?
  11. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    No, you have to say a two-hour walk and a three-day trip.
  12. 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.
  13. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Yes, that's what I thought: a bit archaic... but nevertheless correct.
  14. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England

    I disagree. Perhaps it's an AE/BE thing. In my view:

    Two hours' walk :tick:
    A two hours' walk :cross:
    A two-hour walk :tick:
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    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:)
  16. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    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.
  17. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    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, for example.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2009
  18. ChuaTang

    ChuaTang Member

    Japan, Tokyo

    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,

    PS: I was advised by Cagey not to start a new thread, but rather continue discussion in the existing ones
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2010
  19. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    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
  20. Ynez Senior Member

    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. :)
  21. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    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.
  22. Ynez Senior Member

    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


    It's a relief to know I can say

    a five-minute rest


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