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I understand what the sentence The house is a full day’s journey from here means, but I’m wondering what day’s is short for in this expression. It doesn’t match any pattern I know.

A couple of examples:

  • He’s = he is
  • Let’s = let us
  • Mary’s car = the car belongs to Mary
  • Day’s = it sounds to me like something belongs to a day and this is what I don’t understand. Shouldn’t it be The house is a full day of journey from here instead?
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There is a blog post about this! –  Matt Эллен Jan 8 at 14:16
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This is not in fact true, though a belief that it was brought about a short-lived blossoming of phrases like 'Nick his dog' in the 1500s and onwards –  Tom Robinson Jan 9 at 10:20
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"The house is a full day its journey from here." That just doesn't make sense to me though. What on earth is "its" doing in there? –  Chris Jan 9 at 11:21
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And then it would be "Mary'r car". –  Mr Lister Jan 9 at 14:20
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@Bleeding Fingers: "Mary his car" or "Mary her car"? –  Henry Jan 9 at 18:15

6 Answers 6

up vote 45 down vote accepted

The fourth example is the correct interpretation of day's, but with two things to keep in mind.

First, in your conclusion you flipped the words around incorrectly*; the journey "belongs to" the day, not the other way around. You could re-write the sentence as:

The house is a journey of a full day from here.

Second, while the journey is "of a day," this does not necessarily mean the day "owns" or "possesses" the journey; grammatically, time periods are simply treated as possessive.

* "A full day of journey" would actually work, but that would make "of journey" a subordinate clause rather than the day belonging to the journey; though, as WS2 brought out in the comments, this should actually be "A full day of journeying".

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But a 'full day's journey' would be the normal expression. –  WS2 Jan 8 at 13:28
    
@WS2 You are right, in English, it would. Just like "Phil's ball" is more normal than "The ball of Phil" even though both are grammatically correct. –  IQAndreas Jan 8 at 13:31
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And, of course, don't forget plurals, e.g. "The coast is two full days' journey from here" –  Phil M Jones Jan 8 at 13:34
    
Thanks for your answer! To me "full day's journey", "a full day of journey", "a journey of a full day", "a journey that takes a full day" sound correct. –  Jim Jan 8 at 13:35
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@Jim They would all be correct grammar except for 'a full day of journey'. That would need to be 'a full day of journeying'. But you can't really beat 'a full day's journey' for correctness and succinctness. –  WS2 Jan 8 at 13:42

It's called a "transferred epithet"- the possessive case is incidental, as in...

I had a good night's sleep: The good sleep was mine to enjoy, but it is attributed to the night it happened.

He put in a honest day's work: The quality or extent of work belonged to the doer, but it is attributed to the day.

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Interesting. I did not know the possessive was incidental... –  mplungjan Jan 9 at 10:06

The 's on the day's is possesive in your case - but see @Simha's answer

More time examples

  • Three months' experience
  • One month's experience
  • Today's appointment
  • In two days' time
  • A year's worth of magazines
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It means something that belongs or is associated to a given day.

  • That particular day's event.
  • It happened on this year's second month's third day's eleventh hour
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Your possessive in the second example does not match the question's possessive –  mplungjan Jan 9 at 16:55

The journey does indeed belong to the day in the same way that the wages belong to the day in the sentence, "This will cost a full day's wages." There is no other word in the original sentence that day's could modify. I think it is just a simple possessive modifier like the example: "The satellite will follow the moon's rotation." It will follow the rotation of the moon.

"The house is a full day’s journey from here." It is a journey of a full day from here.

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Your "full day of journey" proposal is correct. Think of the possessive apostrophe meaning "of" (in the sense of belonging), and you won't go far wrong.

If it still sounds strange, it's because people are using flowery language: in place of "a day's journey" you might imagine a flowery writer using the phrase, "a journey so long, that it was servant to the day".

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