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I was just posting a question to the Homebrewing StackExchange, and I found myself pondering the proper way to express my sentiment.

I first wrote "an hour's rest", but upon review, I deemed the apostrophe extraneous. What is the proper way to form this phrase? I can't make a case for the word 'hour' being plural or possessive, so I'm beginning to think the whole letter 's' is unnecessary.

Thoughts, anyone?

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No, the s is not unnecessary -- "an hour's rest" by itself sounds perfectly alright. Helps if you post the complete sentence to know about "for the word 'hour' being plural or possessive," though. –  Kris Jan 12 '12 at 6:40
    
Related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/29220/… –  Andrew Grimm Jan 15 '13 at 11:40
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3 Answers

No one is going to object if you write an hour's rest. It's often misleading to think of the apostrophe s as expressing possession, at least in the sense in which it is commonly understood. It makes more sense to think of it as a remnant of the genitive case, capable of expressing a range of meanings. However, there are signs that, in such cases as this, the apostrophe mark itself is disappearing and, as far as I'm concerned, good riddance.

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This is what the Chicago Manual of Style terms an "idiomatic shorthand form of an of-phrase:"

an hour's delay is equivalent to a delay of one hour, or a one-hour delay

So: an hour's rest can be phrased as a one-hour rest. (I find a rest of one hour a bit stilted...)

Edit: As noted in my comment, in this idiom, delay or rest "belongs" to hour (it's of one hour), so it's "an hour's delay."

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So the apostrophe is appropriate? Does the manual give any explanation as to why? –  Colin Jan 12 '12 at 6:49
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It's an example of a genitive. CMoS describes the genitive as having seven different functions, but you can loosely describe it as possessive. In this idiom, the delay "belongs" to the hour (it's of one hour), so it's "an hour's delay." –  Gnawme Jan 12 '12 at 6:56
    
Thanks, that's a great explanation. –  Colin Jan 12 '12 at 7:09
    
I wonder if this can be described as an example of the "pathetic fallacy", a rhetorical device, in this case making the hour itself rest instead of the person or thing which is being given a rest? –  MετάEd Jan 12 '12 at 15:35
    
@MetaEd This article has a nice explanation of the genitive, and how it's not always possessive. –  Gnawme Jan 12 '12 at 18:44
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I've always seen it with the apostrophe. Without would look goofy. Wikipedia has an explanation as to why (not that it's a standard grammar reference but I believe in this case it's correct):

An apostrophe is used in time and money references, among others, in constructions such as one hour's respite, two weeks' holiday, a dollar's worth, five pounds' worth, one mile's drive from here. This is like an ordinary possessive use. For example, one hour's respite means a respite of one hour (exactly as the cat's whiskers means the whiskers of the cat). Exceptions are accounted for in the same way: three months pregnant (in modern usage, we do not say pregnant of three months, nor one month(')s pregnant).

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