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Recently, while skimming through an article I came across a sentence which is as follows.

The five minute walk will connect you with life.

My rationale says it should have been "five minutes" & not "five minute". Kindly advise where am I going wrong? Thank you.

P.S. Yes I know all these things have been taught at School & I have not been a good student. :P

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Related: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/6434/…. Welcome to ELL! –  Damkerng T. Dec 11 '13 at 12:08
As for advising where you are going wrong, always use "I", and never use "i". You really should edit your question and make that correction. It's only a 30-second fix. –  J.R. Dec 11 '13 at 12:09
@J.R. Thank You. I will definitely keep that in mind. –  Aritra B Dec 11 '13 at 12:11
@DamkerngT. Thank you for the related link. –  Aritra B Dec 11 '13 at 12:11
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

J.R. and Ingmar are both correct, but I'd like add to what they've said by defining some of the terms involved. Overall, it's quite common for nouns to modify other nouns.

The five minute walk will connect you with life.

Because five and minute don't agree in number, you can tell that these words are being used differently than they ordinarily would be. The reason they aren't in agreement is that they represent one, compound word. The words are to be taken collectively, in other words. They do still follow the rule that modifiers need to agree in number, and while not obvious, they do agree in number. That is to say that five-minute agrees with a walk.

The plural, in your example, would be the five-minute walks.

The five-minute walks that I take daily are therapeutic.

And as others have pointed out, five-minute is being used as one whole unit to modify walk. Although some writers choose to hyphenate noun adjuncts such as this to indicate they are a compound modifier, a hyphen is not required. I usually recommend using hyphens, but ultimately, it's a style choice. If the meaning of the sentence can change significantly when the words are not viewed in sum as a single modifier, then they should be hyphenated for clarity.

While adjectives are the most common part of speech used to modify nouns, they are not the only part of speech that can do so. In this case, the subject of your sentence is the entire noun-clause five-minute walk, and five minute is quantifying the walk by indicating the length of the walk in terms of time.

These words are most commonly referred to as attributive nouns or noun adjuncts

My rationale says it should have been "five minutes" & not "five minute". Kindly advise where am I going wrong? Thank you.

When you say five minutes, you're using five differently. And while you're still using this pair as a combined modifier, you're actually changing how they are modifying the nouns walk and walking. You know that they are to be considered separately because they do agree in number.

Compare the following:

This five minute walk will connect you with life.


These five minutes of walking will connect you with life.

In the first sentence, this five-minute walk is emphasizing that this is a walk that takes five minutes to complete. Similarly, other nouns can used to quantify walk in other ways. While five minute walk quantifies walk temporally, people often say that they go for 5k or 3 mile walks/runs to quantify the distance. Either way, you're emphasizing length/duration.

In the second sentence these five minutes still modifies walking, but in this case five also modifies minutes itself, which is why they must agree in number. But they're still working as a compound modifier in that they indicate the length of the walk.

You'll note that it follows the same rule in that the pair of nouns don't agree in number. You either go for a 5k/3.1 mile walk, or you walk 3.1 miles, with walk being a verb in the latter.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online, 16th Ed. has a good explanation of attributive nouns. They don't suggest whether or not the adjuncts should be hyphenated, so if you're following The Chicago Manual's style, then hyphenating the words is completely optional. I'll link the site, but since it's subscription-based (another pair of attributive nouns), I'll copy and paste the text directly below:

5.22 Nouns as adjectives

Words that are ordinarily nouns sometimes function as other parts of speech, such as adjectives or verbs. A noun-to-adjective shift takes place when a noun modifies another noun {the morning newspaper} {a state legislature} {a varsity sport} (morning, state, and varsity function as adjectives). These are also termed attributive nouns. Occasionally the use of a noun as an adjective can produce an ambiguity. For example, the phrase fast results can be read as meaning either “rapid results” or (less probably but possibly) “the outcome of a fast.” Sometimes the noun and its adjectival form can be used interchangeably—for example, prostate cancer and prostatic cancer both refer to cancer of the prostate gland. But sometimes the use of the noun instead of the adjective may alter the meaning—for instance, a study group is not necessarily a studious group. A preposition may be needed to indicate a noun’s relationship to other sentence elements. But if the noun functions as an adjective, the preposition must be omitted; at times this can result in a vague phrase—for example, voter awareness (awareness of voters or by them?). Context might suggest what preposition is implied, but a reader may have to deduce the writer’s meaning.

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Thanks a lot for this post. Very much appreciated. :) –  Aritra B Dec 12 '13 at 6:28
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The singular is fine but a hyphen should be used:

The five-minute walk will connect you with life.

You would use the plural, though, if you weren't using "five-minute" as a modifier:

The walk will connect you with life, and last five minutes.

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Okey, so this one is about modifiers. Thanks again. :) –  Aritra B Dec 11 '13 at 12:29
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The expression is "five-minute walk", just like "two-hour drive". The hyphen gets dropped routinely, but should be there.

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Thank you for this one. :) –  Aritra B Dec 11 '13 at 12:39
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When a modifier comes directly before a noun, we say that it's in attributive position:

  • Attributive noun: a chicken pie
  • Attributive adjective: a tasty pie

When a noun is used attributively, you typically put it in the singular:

a chicken pie
*a chickens pie  (non-standard)

This tendency is so strong that a few words appear in the singular even though they normally have no singular form:

a trouser press
a scissor kick
*a trousers press  (non-standard)
*a scissors kick  (non-standard)

Outside of attributive constructions, the singular scissor and trouser do not exist in standard English.

Although it's not an absolute rule, when you use a multi-word noun phrase attributively, you typically use a hyphen:

a five-minute walk  (recommended, but not required)
a five minute walk

In fact, none of these are absolute rules. Particularly in British English, you may see one of two plural forms used:

a five minutes walk  (plural)
a five minutes' walk  (plural genitive)

In A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Quirk et. al say that "the plural attributive construction is on the increase". They identify a few common uses of attributive plurals, and I'll include some of them here, but I don't intend for this answer to be exhaustive (and I don't think their full categorization is, either):

  1. Words which have no singular form (called pluralia tantum) appear in the plural, with a couple exceptions as noted above:

    a customs officer

  2. Plurals are sometimes used to express variety:

    a soft drinks manufacturer

    Here, Quirk et al. say drinks means "kinds of drink". But they note that this is not universal, giving the counterexample "car manufacturer".

  3. Plurals are sometimes used to rule out a singular interpretation, particularly in the names of institutions:

    The Parks Department
    the heavy chemicals industry

    Here, parks means "multiple parks", and heavy chemicals means "heavy chemicals in general".

There are other uses as well. So as you can see, plurals aren't necessarily wrong in attributive position. However, as a rule, I recommend you stick to the singular unless you know a particular phrase is usually pluralized.

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I know that you've already accepted an answer, but I thought I'd add a few details for anyone interested. –  snailplane Dec 12 '13 at 1:01
Hmmm, It appears we both had the same thought and intention, although you apparently type faster than I do. And the scissors/trousers example is rather astute. Nice answer. –  John Q Public Dec 12 '13 at 1:36
@snailboat It is always satisfying to have a detailed analysis of your post. Thanks a lot for your answer. –  Aritra B Dec 12 '13 at 6:26
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five minute is used as adjective:

a five minute dance

five minutes is used as adjective plus plural noun:

dance for five minutes

although five in this context can also be regarded as a determiner.

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