9

Spanish uses the singular to refer to one and the plural to refer more than one or zero of something. Is the same for material things and other abstract concepts, for example, time measures: hours, minutes, seconds...

Examples:

Tengo 1 hora libre.
Faltan 2 horas para terminar.
Finalizará en 0 horas 5 minutos y 2 segundos.

Is it correct, in English, to say, for example?

The process required 0 hours and 5 minutes.

  • 3
    Related (or dupe?): Plural form after zero – Andrew T. Jul 29 '18 at 12:15
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    Tangentially related, zero hour (no plural) can and does exist as a noun meaning the time something is scheduled to occur. Most famous example I can think of is from the song Rocket Man: "She packed my bags last night, pre-flight / Zero hour, nine AM". This term has been in use for decades, such as in the title of the 1957 film Zero Hour! and doubtless there are examples in the military where it is used long before that. – Smartybartfast Jul 30 '18 at 4:25
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    Possible duplicate of Plural form after zero – AndyT Jul 30 '18 at 9:19
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    In your accepted answer below, you said, "I saw this in a computer program." WARNING - you will often see "1 hours" in a computer program; not correct usage. It's because some languages don't just 'add an s' to make their plurals. Microsoft admitted this (knowing it was incorrect) so they could release their programs in all languages at the same time. See if you do them all as plural, you don't have to recompile - you just change from "hours" to "horas" to <whatever>. If you don't do this, a non-English speaker has to recheck everything then you may (will) need special builds. – J. Chris Compton Jul 30 '18 at 19:53
26

It's not "incorrect," but normally you'd omit the hours instead:

The process required five minutes.

I suppose there are some exceptions. For example, I can see where an author might decide keep the zero for the sake of parallelism:

  • Process A required 2 hours and 12 minutes.
  • Process B required 1 hour and 47 minutes.
  • Process C required 0 hours and 14 minutes.
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    Ok, thanks. I saw this expresión in a computer program, is common here keep the parallelism. – Orici Jul 29 '18 at 10:41
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    Sure, but output from software is not quite the same as technical writing. I wouldn't bat an eye if a computer program printed something like Process completed in 0 hours, 0 minutes, and 4.8 seconds; I would just assume the programmer felt it wasn't worth the extra code required to eliminate the zero units. Generally speaking, computer programs are more concerned with accurate numeric data than proper English grammar. – J.R. Jul 29 '18 at 10:46
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    Instead of "parallelism", I'd say "consistency". – RonJohn Jul 30 '18 at 4:11
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    There's nothing ungrammatical about "0 hours and 14 minutes". We might omit it as redundant, but that decision is unrelated to grammar. – Jon Hanna Jul 30 '18 at 16:08
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    @JonHanna It's not ungrammatical, but in written sentences, it's usually not idiomatic. I would say this is a fairly strong idiom; without some specific stylistic reason (like the need for clarity or precision) to include it, zero value portions of different units are omitted. (E.g., we'd do the same thing with 0 feet 5 inches or 2 cups 0 ounces.) This answer could call it incorrect on those grounds (even though it chooses not to). – jpmc26 Jul 30 '18 at 17:23
30

Since it's not being said unambiguously: yes, it's correct; it works the same as Spanish.

When you have zero of something you use the plural: 0 hours, no cows, zero degrees, etc. The singular is used exclusively for when there is exactly one of something.

Stylistically, "0 hours and 5 minutes" is not usual, but can be appropriate when you have tasks of varying lengths in the minutes to hours range and want to express the times in the same style.

  • 2
    Exactly one of something, including "one half", and so on. – snailcar Jul 29 '18 at 15:38
  • Though if you want to be technical, zero degrees is rather different than no cows, because (unless you're using the Kelvin scale), you can have negative values. – jamesqf Jul 29 '18 at 16:19
  • @snailboat: Correct. But contrast: "I ate half a slice of pie." – Kevin Jul 29 '18 at 20:25
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    @JackAidley: Yes, if you write it out in decimal, it gets a plural. – Kevin Jul 29 '18 at 20:44
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    @Kevin: In fact, even "1.0" requires the plural: "1.0 slices", not *"1.0 slice". – ruakh Jul 31 '18 at 5:00
2

J.R.'s answer is the correct one, deserves the tick, and all the rest but since no one else mentioned it—

No, it's highly unusual to bother mentioning “zero hours” of time but,

yes, it is common military jargon to say “zero hundred hours.” It’s not talking about a time period of 0 hours but about the time of day 00:00 (i.e., midnight). It’s part of the military’s way of reading their 24-hour clock but, of course, the hours don’t actually include 100 minutes, just the normal 60.

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    I believe the "hundred" is used because it refers to an exact hour with no minutes so therefore two zeros following, e.g. 0400 is oh-four hundred hours. – Spratty Jul 30 '18 at 10:51
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    It depends on the timekeeping text, goal, context. There is nothing wrong with it, if an author wants to use it. And it's often seen in technical texts. – Lambie Jul 30 '18 at 19:38
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    Another topical example is a "zero hours contract", which is an employment contract where the employee is guaranteed zero hours of work (in other words, the employer doesn't have to pay any regular salary, they can vary the employee's working schedule down to nothing whenever they want) – user1908704 Jul 31 '18 at 0:28
1

As a former technical writer (and native speaker), I answer “yes and no.” It is correct usage to use the plural for zero. However, in writing, it is better to spell out short numbers instead of using digits. Defining “short” in this context is tricky. I think almost all would agree anything under ten. For me personally, it’s any single-word number. For example, seven, seventeen, seventy, hundred, but digits for 77, 101, etc.

  • I would relax that rule for software output. However, I detest the laziness of the multitude of programmers responsible for outputting things like “your session will end in 1 minutes.” – WGroleau Jul 29 '18 at 15:21
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    AP style is to write out only numbers less than 10. That's appropriate for most general consumption non-fictional writing. – user8356 Jul 30 '18 at 13:58
  • Apologies for going too technical here, but @WGroleau laziness is a bit of a harsh term. Printing out "minute" instead of "minutes" requires a continuous conditional check that wouldn't naturally come about when you're just looking to output a timed message. It's one of those little things that one doesn't really think about when coding but should be cleaned up before a user ever sees it. – Alexander Jul 30 '18 at 15:06
  • As a retired software engineer (more than thirty years), I don’t feel obligated to give up my opinion on “things one doesn’t really think about.” – WGroleau Jul 30 '18 at 21:11
1

Not typically. I can't think of any situation other than where text has been produced artificially. The correct way of saying it would be:

The process required 5 minutes

Because zero by its definition means nothing, it's not included.

  • 1
    You're right about that the text has been produced artificially to use "zero elements", I saw it in a computer program. – Orici Jul 29 '18 at 10:39
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    @Orici - I can't understand why you've mentioned the computer output in two comments, but never mentioned it in your question. Context is everything. – J.R. Jul 29 '18 at 18:50
  • "Zero by its definition means nothing" is a very misleading statement. Zero and nothing are two fundamentally different things. – Persistence Jul 30 '18 at 7:40
0

Not to be too contrarian, but there are some idioms that use 'zero' with 'hour' singular, not plural.

To quote Elton John/Bernie Taupin in "Rocket Man":

"She packed my bags last night, pre-flight Zero hour: 9:00 a.m And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then"

"Zero hour" is the start of something. The universe's zero hour was the moment of the Big Bang.

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    Yeah, in those examples, zero is an attributive modifier rather than a determiner. For example, in the universe's zero hour, the determiner is the genitive NP the universe's. That's why it's unrelated to the plurality of the head noun. – snailcar Jul 30 '18 at 14:18
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    Right on! It's not counting the number of hours, it refers to "an" hour. – user8356 Jul 30 '18 at 14:23

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