# Using "some" to describe units of time

"some minutes, some years, some seconds" are grammatically incorrect.

But "a few minutes, a few years, a few seconds" works.

I'm trying to teach a non-native speaker this nuance but "it just sounds weird" does not feel like a satisfactory explanation. I know it has to do with count and mass nouns, because some time is correct and a few time is not, and time is a mass noun, and few can only be used with countable nouns. Minutes, years, seconds, etc. are all count nouns.

But, some can in some circumstances be used with count nouns and in others with mass nouns. What's the distinction I'm missing?

From your input I have gathered that some + time unit isn't technically wrong when used unselectively, (the "selective" sense of some is explained by Max Williams) but that it's just awkward in some cases. You don't need a some in any unselective construct with a unit of time. Years ago, for decades, in minutes, months later, over days.

Why does it sound awkward? Here's my highly heterodox and basically epistemological explanation. My first argument is that some isn't a totally amorphous quantity, that is, it actually does tell you some info about how much stuff (or how many things) it describes. I think we assume some to be countable, not in the sense of "a count noun", but in the sense that we can readily fathom its size. And furthermore I think that some connotes a smallish number, small enough so that it's readily fathomable, generally like 1-100. (This maximum "some-bound" increases for multiples of 5s, 10s, etc.) I'll give an example. Compare "I have not eaten meat for some years (now)" to "scientists believe that the earth was formed some years ago". The latter just sounds ironic. So, some sounds weird when used unselectively with large quantities because it seems to conflict with their size. Some also sounds weird with with very small quantities because it appears to provide little information. This is because we assume that the unit of time was chosen efficiently. We don't expect someone to say "2400 minutes" because it's much easier to say "40 hours". We define very small units by their part of a whole, and we assume that at a certain point someone will start using the next order of magnitude unit. If the unit is chosen efficiently then some does not tell you much about quantity, because the coefficient will stay small, and we assume "some"-size by default unless told otherwise, and some-size is small. In these cases, some is vestigial and should be dropped. But there's a happy medium where unselective "some" works with countable nouns. It's middle-of-the-range units of time where some begins to serve a purpose. It actually does give a bit of info about the actual quantity of the many things/much stuff. For example, "some years ago" is differently nuanced than just "years ago", it sounds somehow smaller. That justifies including the "some" even though it's correct without it.

• I disagree that "some minutes, some years, some seconds" are always incorrect - the construction "Some minutes later..." is used not infrequently Apr 19, 2016 at 15:08
• For some minutes or for some seconds might not be as idiomatic as for some years, but all of them are not completely wrong. A few minutes and a few seconds are more popular as the time span is quite short. Who told you they are grammatically incorrect?
– user140086
Apr 19, 2016 at 15:12
• I agree with @costrom. You can also say, "Some years ago, when I was a lot younger, ...". In this kind of context, some probably implies more than a few: some and few tend to have difference nuances. Apr 19, 2016 at 15:13
• Some used as a determiner: You use some in front of the plural form of a noun to talk about a number of people or things, without saying who or what they are, or how many of them there are. Some children were playing in the yard. I have some important things to tell them. thefreedictionary.com/some
– user66974
Apr 19, 2016 at 15:14
• Do you think these are patternless collocations, or do they have to do with tense? Because "i will be back in some minutes" just sounds wrong to me. Apr 19, 2016 at 15:14