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I'm not sure if this sort of question has ever been asked, and it's surprisingly difficult to do a productive generic search for this contextual expression (contextual as in involving numbers). I always thought it was grammatical to say "[number other than 1] feet [number]", but I've recently come across this quote from Mia March's Finding Colin Forth which left me confused:

"Bea was five foot ten, and Tommy made her feel kind of dainty for once."

So my questions are: Which is correct? Five foot ten or five feet ten? Why would such a formula as [number other than 1] foot [number] make an exception out of the regular rule [number other than 1] feet?

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In British usage at least, you would generally use foot in expressions like:

Five foot ten

Meaning five feet and ten inches, often written 5'10".

However, if you actually use the word inches, you can use feet:

Five feet ten inches

But you don't have to:

Five foot ten inches

That's just an odd behaviour when you specify the number of inches as well, and it's not a rule - more of a guideline. You will hear people say "five feet ten" as well, just less often.

If a measure is just being stated, not applied to anything, you can in general uses foot or feet and no-one will mind either way, especially if there's no inches to go with it:

"How tall was he?"
"About five foot"

"How long should this plank be?"
"Six feet"

You can think of it in terms of there being different implied words around the simple statement of the measurement, but I suspect that would be more confusing than enlightening.

In the particular dialect I naturally speak, there's at least one interesting exception to this "either way" thing. If you're talking about distances between objects, you would always use feet.

"So, how far is it until the next waypoint?"
"About 50 feet."

However, in other British English dialects, it would be the other way around - you would use foot in that situation.

Basically, the biggest take-home for this question should be: this is a horrible quagmire of expectations that are confusing even if you just look at one dialect, and if you start worrying about more than one dialect you will realise that you can never get it right according to all native English speakers.

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The general rule is, if it comes before the noun as a modifier, it's the singular form. Otherwise, it'd be the plural form. Your example is a bit of an exception that I'll get into.

1) A 6-foot tall man

2) A 100-meter tall building

3) A 300-foot long submarine

vs.

1) The man is 6 feet tall.

2) The building is 100 meters tall.

3) The submarine is 300 feet long.

The singular form of foot is used more colloquially when talking about people's heights.

"He's 6 foot 3."

Slangy, but very common.

"He's 6 feet 3 inches tall."

Normal and acceptable

"He's 6 foot 3 inches."

Somewhat slangy, but I'm sure I've heard this before. Most of the time you'd just drop 'inches' with the word 'foot' like this

"He's 6 feet 3"

This just sounds odd to me.

Same question here: "6-foot tall" or "6-feet tall"?

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