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Pluralization rule for “five-year-old children”, “20 pound note”, “10 mile run”

I was reading an article that used the phrase "15 minutes waits" and it sounded odd to me. I've always said "15 minute waits". Which is grammatically correct? Or are they both acceptable?

Google seems to indicate that "minute waits" (157k) is much more common than "minutes waits" (11.3k).

It also occurs to me that perhaps the former is only valid when 15-minute is hyphenated. i.e. "They all had 15-minute waits."

EDIT: To be clear, the context of the original sentence was that every one of them had a 15-minute wait. Is it ever correct to say "They all had 15 minutes waits"?

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, coleopterist, RegDwigнt Aug 8 '12 at 17:35

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Also see question #63246 and question #12570 and less-related question #65488 –  jwpat7 Aug 7 '12 at 17:28
Not only does your question sound like a duplicate (and also a rather basic one, I'd say), but your last sentence seems to be ill written. If the latter refers back to minutes waits (the closest term), then what you say should be the other way round. –  Paola Aug 7 '12 at 23:53
Also, your math seems to be a bit in error. 11,300 is much less than 157,000. –  Arlen Beiler Aug 8 '12 at 0:46
@Paola Thank you for pointing out a simple mistake that was caused by a last minute rearrangement of my question. I greatly appreciate your help. –  Luke Aug 8 '12 at 16:25

1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

When you use a quantity and a unit as an adjective, the unit is singular:

  • A 200-pound man...

  • A 280-calorie snack...

When the unit is used as a noun, it's plural (unless the quantity is one, of course):

  • 200 pounds of man crashed down on me...

  • I enjoyed those 280 calories...

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I notice your examples are not hyphenated. Is the hyphen optional? wrong? –  Luke Aug 7 '12 at 17:55
Added hyphens. I don't know if it's incorrect to leave them out, but it's certainly not incorrect to put them in. I was just thinking more about the words. –  William Shakespeare Aug 7 '12 at 17:57
There are exceptions to this rule: "They all had waits of 15 minutes duration." (Or maybe 15 minutes isn't acting as an adjective here, even though it looks like it is.) –  Peter Shor Aug 7 '12 at 18:01
@PeterShor Sometimes we say in 15 minutes' time, i.e. "in the time of 15 minutes." In that case, minutes is a noun. waits of 15 minutes duration seems like an attempt at the same sort of formation, so perhaps minutes should possessive there, but duration is redundant. I'd suggest 15 minutes' wait or wait of 15 minutes instead. –  William Shakespeare Aug 7 '12 at 18:28
@PeterShor As opposed to a 15-minute wait. –  tchrist Aug 7 '12 at 20:24

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