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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"?

  • Also see question #63246 and question #12570 and less-related question #65488 Commented Aug 7, 2012 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
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 23:53
  • Also, your math seems to be a bit in error. 11,300 is much less than 157,000. Commented Aug 8, 2012 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
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


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...

  • I notice your examples are not hyphenated. Is the hyphen optional? wrong?
    – Luke
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 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.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 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.) Commented Aug 7, 2012 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.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 18:28
  • 1
    @PeterShor As opposed to a 15-minute wait.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 20:24

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