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#316 - 03/16/00 09:29 AM Distance words
Martin503 Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 1
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I'm puzzled by the behaviour of distance words such as inch, foot and mile. Their use of plurals seems odd. For example, one would say "a three-inch nail" but it's "three inches long"; a twelve-foot wall is twelve feet high; a four mile run covers four miles. What is the rule here?

#317 - 03/16/00 09:55 AM Re: Distance words
Brandon Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 218
Loc: Mountain West, USA

I'd venture to say this occurrence is not related to "distance." For example, we commmonly refer to basketball teams as five-man, though there are 5 men. A three-woman singing group has three women. In English, we have the ability to convert a plural-oriented adjective into a singular form. Wish I had a two-screen computer.

#318 - 04/07/00 04:28 AM Re: Distance words
wsieber Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1027
Loc: Switzerland
Hi Brandon,
Further examples are five-dollar bill and two-bedroom house. But your formulation of the RULE doesn't satify me. The rule should say something like "nouns preceded by numbers are put in singular if..." if what?
Best regards

#319 - 04/07/00 07:47 AM Re: Distance words
shanks Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 1004
Loc: London, UK
Isn't it about the 'head' word? If run, wall, team, etc are treated as singular, then the adjectival forms for them - 4 mile, 12 foot, 5 woman, will simply agree with this singular.

While we may not see the particular 'logic' in this, it appears to be a consistent rule. Even when the head noun is pluralised, we seem to remember this rule - "There were 12 five-foot walls around the courtyard".


the sunshine warrior

#320 - 04/07/00 06:28 PM Re: Distance words
Philip Davis Offline

Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 81
The distance is a singular distance. Five foot, three inch, &c. The unit used to measure the distance is what is being pluralised. The nail has a single length, this length is not three units. The measurement of the nail is three inches. A five feet wall would be a wall of five levels each a foot in height. In the same way a five men side of would consist of a team of five groups of men of unknown size (but greater than one), a five man side consists of one side of five singular men. Completely logical and straight forward when you realise that a team of several people is one team and a length of several units of measurement is one length.

#321 - 04/08/00 12:11 PM Re: Distance words
HSalim Offline

Registered: 04/08/00
Posts: 1
To add to Philip Davis' explanation, you can charecterize those hypenated words as resembling collections, in that they have a singular form. Instead, they are descriptive nouns or adjectivized nouns. (Am I coining new phrases here?)
So, in a collection of Nails, (computer geeks would call it a class) one has, among others, Three-inch nails and five-inch nails(sub classes). IF I look, I may find a three-inch nail (an instance of the subclass) measures just 2.8 inches long because of a manufacturing defect.

To use the other examples, a five man team may actually have 9 men including reserves, but only five of them will play in the three-legged race.

Am I killing it to death?

#322 - 04/08/00 07:37 PM Re: Distance words
Philip Davis Offline

Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 81
HSallim has expressed it well. The example given above of the 5 dollar note is another very good example. It is not five one dollar notes but one five dollar note, one of many notes of several values.


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