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An example sentence would be like: "In the old decades, banana was the main type of food".

Is this sentence grammatically correct? If so, does the phrase "in the old decades" have similar meaning to "a few decades ago"?

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There's nothing grammatically wrong with "in the old decades", but no native English speakers actually use it. They'd say "in earlier decades" instead. –  Peter Shor Oct 12 '13 at 19:05
It's grammatically correct, but it's very strange. The old days is the idiom, and, while decades makes sense (In past decades, ...), the old decades has to refer to 'those old decades that we discussed earlier'. –  John Lawler Oct 12 '13 at 19:07
To answer your second question: no, “in the old decades” does not mean the same as “a few decades ago”. The latter specifically talks about a few decades ago (for example, the 1970s or 1980s if seen from 2013), whereas ‘the old decades’ would be quite a bit further back in time. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 12 '13 at 19:12
Expressions start somewhere before they catch on (if they ever do), and perhaps vinny lammie's blog ('The good old decades') is starting a trend. However, I'd say that most Google hits for "old decades" are from people who can't handle idiomatic English, or chance juxtapositions (he was old decades ago, etc). –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '13 at 19:13
I think this is a perfectly legitimate question for ELU. A phrase does not have to be idiomatic so long as it is grammatical, unambiguous, and makes sense. Depending on the context, I would certainly use the expression to reference a period of, say 30-40 years duration, from a time that is several decades old, not the recent past. What is wrong with the phrase per se? –  Kris Oct 13 '13 at 11:11

2 Answers 2

As multiple comments have pointed out, there is nothing ungrammatical about the sentence but it is not a common phrase. More typical ways to say this:

In earlier decades...

In the old days...

People would probably understand what you meant if you used "in the old decades" but it is recommend to use the more common phrases instead.

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1- Unfortunately, decade means in English "ten years" instead of the etymological correct but forgotten "decennium". French has kept "décade = 10 days" and "décennie = 10 years", and is right.

2- "a few decades ago" is correct ; but "in the old decades" refers to nothing.

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The French meaning relating to days is no more “right” than the English meaning relating to years. In fact, English is more historically accurate in that ‘decade’ can also mean just any group of ten things, whatever they be, which is the original meaning of the word. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 12 '13 at 19:10
Etymonline seems to say that in Middle French and Middle English, "decade" meant ten of anything. See pentad and hexad. English and French evolved so it now means ten of different time periods. –  Peter Shor Oct 12 '13 at 19:11
I fail to see how the first part has anything at all to do with the question at hand. The second part sort of does but could use some fleshing out to say the least. It does not actually answer any of the questions OP has. The top comment is older than this "answer" and is much more helpful. –  RegDwigнt Oct 12 '13 at 19:46
δέκα means both "ten" and "group of ten", and French "décade" has been a group of ten lines, in poetry (now "dizain") ; especially since the Révolution, it means exclusively "ten days". If "decade" meant any group of ten things, whatever they could be, why not months, weeks, hours or ... pencils. –  ex-user2728 Oct 12 '13 at 21:28
Is “in the old decades” grammatically correct? --> You have not answered the question. –  Kris Oct 13 '13 at 11:13

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