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.

  • Note that the possessive and the plural are pronounced identically, and the question is just about whether a silent apo'stroph'e should be included when it's written. Thus this is not a question about the language at all; nobody can tell the difference in speech. And nobody has a definitive answer for the punctuation, either. Hence, quit worrying about it; if you screw up, nobody can tell. – John Lawler Jul 11 at 20:35
up vote 13 down vote accepted

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

In other words, "dollar" naturally requires an "s" in this case, 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.

  • 1
    "Another words"? – hunter2 Jul 5 '13 at 8:01
  • 1
    In other words? – sv. Sep 8 '15 at 20:36
  • Explanation by analogy and intuition is often risky.  You say, «These cases aren’t tricky if you ask yourself the following question: how would you write “one dollar’s worth”?»  I suspect that many English speakers would write “one dollar worth”. – Scott Jul 11 at 20:50

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

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.

  • 1
    +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 '14 at 18:15
  • @adam.smith Good point. This answer was given before I started reevaluating use of NGrams on ELU. – Robusto Aug 27 '14 at 19:45

These cases can be very tricky. I've found the following document very helpful in determining when to use apostrophes: Genitive is Not Always Possessive.

The following section (referring to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage) 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

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.

  • 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

protected by tchrist Nov 16 '16 at 14:46

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.