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Inanimate Possessives: two days’ time or two days time?

A wise client business grammar question:

“There was always one grammatical mix up for me, and I would like your advice on it. Do we write: I will finish in a week’s time or in a weeks time? In two days’ time or in two days time?”

ANSWER:
In two days’ time, the answer posted will be grammatically correct. (Not two days time.)

In a week’s time, this challenging grammar issue will make more sense. (Not a weeks time.)

This question addresses Inanimate Possessives. Before we look at Inanimate Possessives specifically, here are the main uses for an apostrophe in the English language:

  1. Showing “contractions” – i.e. where letters have been omitted from words to contract two words into one (was not to wasn’t).
  2. Indicating “possession” – i.e. that something belongs to someone or something (Susan's report).

The Gregg Reference Manual (which I highly recommend) explains:

As a rule, nouns referring to inanimate things should not be in the possessive. Use an “of” phrase instead.

Examples of this include:

  • the bottom of the barrel (NOT: the barrel’s bottom)
  • the wording of the agreement (NOT: the agreement’s wording
  • the lower level of the terminal (NOT: the terminal’s lower level)

However, in reference to time and measurement, and in phrases implying personification, possessive form has become accepted usage:

  • a day’s notice
  • an hour’s work
  • two years’ progress (plural possessive)
  • two weeks’ salary (plural possessive)

An easy way to remember this is to realize that possession does not belong only to people and places, but also to time.

Here are examples:

  • The end of the journey = the journey’s end
  • In the time of 1 hour = in an hour’s time
  • In the time of 5 hours = in 5 hours’ time (both possessive and plural)
  • In the time of a month = in a month’s time (it is only one month)

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Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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