My coworker is suggesting a change to “office hour” in this case. Is that more right?

I know “hour” as a unit should be singular when (and only when) there’s exactly one, but as part of the name for hours of operation – e.g. “office hours” or “visiting hours” or “member hours” or simply “hours” – the singular form seems strange to me.

I could see using singular if there’s an implicit assumption that the referenced period of time is now, and will always be, exactly one hour, like an inherent feature, to the point that you could drop the end of the range as it would be implied (e.g. “Office hour: 9am”). In our case, the period has been longer in the past, and may be again in future, so it feels more correct to use “hours” to implicitly accommodate that possibility.

As for the other way around – phrases that use the singular “hour” for periods that are nonspecific or not exactly one hour, such as “dinner hour” or “witching hour” – this comment suggests that correct usage here is simply idiomatic, so perhaps that’s the case for “office hour(s)” too? [Edit: My examples here may be bogus, since I realized e.g. “dinner hour” can be a non-durational point in time, like an appointment; and “witching hour” is technically exactly one hour, though I think common usage might’ve moved away from that.]

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    It’s “office hours” as you surmise. I’d expect “office hour” to be used as a joke: “Why don’t you come visit me during office hours?” “Don’t you mean office hour!?! You are only there Mondays from 7:00-8:00 am.” – Jim Jan 12 '17 at 0:19
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    "Office hours" is the idiomatic term. – Hot Licks Jan 12 '17 at 0:31
  • I don't think this is a question that can be answered other than by opinion. – AmE speaker Jan 12 '17 at 2:27

When I think of someone writing about office hours, or an hour at the office, I think of the words “office hours”, because in this case they are not being used as separate words put together (office + hours), but as one phrase that means a time spent at the office. I think your friend is thinking of the words as separate, their meanings individually. But put together and the plural “hours” doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be used for multiple hours.

For example, do you mean something like this?:

During my office hours, I spent an entire 45 minutes trying to print a report just to find out that my computer had somehow disconnected itself from the office network.

  • Yes, thank you! In our case we're listing specific hours of day, which have just decreased from two to one, so "member hours 9-11am" has become "member hour[s?] 10-11am". We ended up using a rephrase that arguably works better than the original, given its context – "Open 11am-5pm with member entry at 10am" – but I thought the question was still worth looking into. – Luke M Jan 12 '17 at 1:34
  • @LukeM - So member hours are 10am-5pm, non-members 11-5. – Jim Jan 12 '17 at 1:40
  • @Jim - Right. We usually write “member-only hours”, in fact, I just abbreviated it here a bit. – Luke M Jan 12 '17 at 16:07
  • @LukeM - So this came up in a conversation today. Hours can be used for what you have written, even with the 10am at the end: Office Hours 11-5pm with member entry at 10am – Leah Murdoch Jan 12 '17 at 18:42

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