# Articles with Spatial Prepositions

Are both sentences correct? with and without the indefinite article (a):

She lives two minutes' walk from the station

She lives a two minutes' walk from the station

• The difference between them is not about "spatial prepositions"at all. "two-minute walk". Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 15:25
• She lives a two-minute walk from the station. Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 15:51

It is the one without the article that is correct:

She lives two minutes' walk from the station.

Discussion

The phrases in boldface below are called measure genitives, or, alternatively, genitives of measure (Longman, p. 296, which where the four examples below come from):

Perhaps he took my thousand dollars and put me to skep with two dollars' worth of ether.
Their huts were 12 hours' journey from the nearest main road.
I want ten years' supply of whisky.
I held the telephone at arm's length and stared at it.

As is clear already from the first three examples, when a cardinal number precedes the noun in the genitive, we generally don't need another determiner in front.

This doesn't mean, however, that we may never put another determiner in front. Consider the following examples from CGEL (p. 470):

a second [one hour's delay]
the [one dollar's worth of chocolates] he bought

Arguably, the following are also acceptable: a second [two hours' delay], the [two dollars' worth of chocolates] he bought. CGEL says that these examples show that measure genitives are attributive modifiers rather than determiners, because in these examples they actually follow a determiner (immediately or with an intervening adjectival attribute). CGEL further says that

When they occur in this position, i.e. after a determiner, they are subject to the constraint described in §6.2, so that the indefinite article is dropped: instead of *this [an hour's delay] we have this [hour's delay]. In this case the measure genitive (hour's) has the status of a nominal, but otherwise measure genitives are full NPs (noun phrases).

Because they are modifiers not determiners, measure genitives do not confer definiteness on the NP. While a friend's dog, with Type 1 genitive, is definite ("the dog of a friend"), an hour's delay is indefinite ("delay of an hour"). Nor can they occur initially with nouns that require a count interpretation: *We played [an hour's game of squash]; instead we need the compound adjective construction We played a [ one-hour game of squash].

If the last sentence is correct, by the way, it implies that walk is used as an uncountable noun in your example. This is rather extraordinary, because I certainly can't think of another construction where walk is uncount. For example, *I had/did lots of walk today doesn't work. Moreover, among the major dictionaries that explicitly state whether a given sense of a noun is count or uncount (Cambridge, Collins, and Macmillan), none of them record an uncount sense for the noun walk. Nevertheless, postulating that walk is uncount in two minutes' walk does have the advantage of making it unsurprising that no determiner is needed in front; after all, count nouns in the singular normally require a determiner, whereas uncount nouns in the singular do not require one as long as they are indefinite. The disadvantage is that walk is not the only noun for which we need to postulate this unique uncount sense: we have to do the same with dollar and arm, for example.

As usual, analyzing grammatical rules that someone wrote down is actually not decisive as far as whether a given construction is acceptable or not. What we need to do is look at actual patterns of usage among native speakers. So, let's verify that the article is indeed missing in reputable sources such as published books. This is indeed so: see the numerous examples here and here. Here and there we find usage with an article (e.g. here), but that is very rare by comparison.

• I'm very happy with 'She lives a two-minute walk [away] from....' There are plenty of similar examples on the internet. The time involved is a free (within reason) choice, and 'drive' (and perhaps other sensibly chosen nouns) may be used in place of 'walk'. I'd not consider 'walk' a count usage here any more than 'light' in 'a subtle light filtered through the foliage'. It's perhaps best to regard 'a three-hour drive', 'a stone's throw' etc as (quasi–)distance-measures, fixed expressions/idioms with internal countness for those where the time may be adjusted. Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 11:11
• @EdwinAshworth Ah, but a two-minute walk doesn't involve a genitive. So it's either she lives a two-minute walk from the station or she lives ø two minutes' walk from the station, where ø is the 'zero article'. What the OP was asking about was the case with both the indefinite article and a genitive, * she lives a two minutes' walk from the station, and that one doesn't work. Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 13:21
• @EdwinAshworth As far as a subtle light, there are important differences between that usage and e.g. a two-hour walk, arguably important enough to insist that light is still uncount there. First, with light, note that you can omit the article if you want (an example), but you cannot omit the article in She went for a two-hour walk. Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 13:21
• @EdwinAshworth Second, the effect of the a with NPs of the form adjective+uncount noun is 'to individuate a subamount' of the noun ('light'), 'but this individuation does not yield an entity conceptualised as belonging to a class of entities of the same kind' (CGEL, p. 339). For example, this is not acceptable: * There was a subtle light coming through the north window and another coming through the east window. But if you replace light by the countable noun sound, it becomes acceptable. Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 13:21
• More so than the singular-form attributive with some (eg a nine days' wonder, a three days' journey). With 'childrens clothing departments', 'writers guilds', and certainly 'working mens clubs' becoming acceptable, perhaps these non-possessive strings will similarly just drop the apostrophe. // Exodus 8:27 [BibleHub] has some interesting alternatives! Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 15:03

The second sounds wrong to me, because it sounds like you're using a with a plural. Of course walk is actually singular.

She lives two minutes' walk from the station

She lives a two-minute walk from the station

According to Which is correct use of the apostophe in minutes? a two-minutes' walk is not wrong.

• “A two-minutes’ walk” sounds correct, although in spoken form the listener can’t detect either the hyphen or the placement of the apostrophe. The archetype here is “a minute’s walk” or “an hour’s drive”, where we let the unit of time take possession of the activity it contains. The choice between the possessive time interval and the noun-as-adjective time interval is mostly a matter of convention. Intuitively, the simpler and more clearly visualized intervals are more possessive.
– user205876
Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 19:40
• They are both right. People forget that the determiner a can be expressed with a noun as a plural. Like this: I love an egg for breakfast. OR I love eggs for breakfast. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 13:31