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I was writing the following sentence:

Five thousand dollars worth of equipment does not a professional photographer make.

Apart from the other questionable syntax in this over-stylized sentence, what occurred to me, courtesy of Microsoft auto correct, was that "thousand dollars" may need to be in possessive form, though it's not immediately occurring to me why this would be. So which is correct:

Five thousand dollars worth of equipment does not a professional photographer make.

or

Five thousand dollars' worth of equipment does not a professional photographer make.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

These cases aren't tricky if you ask yourself the following question: how would you write "one dollar's worth"?

Another words, "dollar" naturally requires an "s" even though we are talking about "one dollar".

Therefore, it is a case of possession, meaning that we are referring to the "worth" of "thousands of dollars". So, the possessive apostrophe should fall after the "s".

The same rule applies to "seven years' jail" and "one year's jail". Many journalists etc. are clearly none the wiser about this topic, as even some of the most astute publications contain articles which omit the apostrophe.

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"Another words"? –  hunter2 Jul 5 '13 at 8:01

The possessive is necessary because you're indicating that the worth or value possessed by the equipment is equivalent to the worth or value possessed by five thousand dollars. Hence, Five thousand dollars' worth

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Normally I would say the possessive is necessary, but it is interesting to observe the trend in usage via Google NGrams:

Google NGram

As you can see, the possessive was overwhelmingly preferred beginning in the 1830s, crested around 1920, and after WWII has been in steady decline. It has been putting up roughly the same numbers as "dollars worth" beginning in the late 1970s, and has experienced a slight up-tick since around 2005.

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+1 for introducing NGrams to me... my latest complete waste of time! –  Bob Kaufman May 17 '11 at 18:56
    
Thought this may also just been a combination of "dollars' worth" being a somewhat dated expression and the occurrence of "dollars worth"--correctly--in phrases like "How much is 100 US dollars worth in England" (which is one of the first search hits returned for "dollars worth") –  adam.smith Aug 27 at 18:15
    
@adam.smith Good point. This answer was given before I started reevaluating use of NGrams on ELU. –  Robusto Aug 27 at 19:45

These cases can be very tricky. I've found the following link very helpful in determining when to use apostrophes:

http://www.alt-usage-english.org/genitive_and_possessive.html

The following section is most relevant to your question:

They discuss a number of uses of the genitive and give examples of each. Under 'descriptive genitive or classifying genitive', with the comment 'Fries adds the genitive of measure to this', they list:

the room's furnishings
the airplane's speed
the building's foundation
one day's leave
a dollar's worth
a year's wages
the Eighty Years' War

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This is very similar to the "Two Weeks Notice" problem featured by Lynne Truss, the apostrophe campaigner and author of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

It should definitely be "Thousand Dollars' Worth", by the way.

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Your link returns a 403-Forbidden response. Is there another way to see this, or can you post a summary? –  Bob Kaufman Jul 2 '13 at 16:48
    
Link(s) edited. –  Phil M Jones Jul 4 '13 at 16:00

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