Minute: used in spoken English to mean a very short time

“Empty the soup into a saucepan and simmer gently for ten minutes.”


I think “minute” is used as singular in this sense, but can I say “ten minutes”? The dictionary says “ten minutes” is the example of “minute” indicating a very short time.

2 Answers 2


Whether the time is short or not depends on how many minutes and what is being timed. But other than "one minute", some number of minutes is not singular.

"a minute" is used to describe an indefinite (and usually short) length of time. For example:

I'll be back in a minute.

Give me a minute to think about it.

The intention is that it is a short period of time, without being specific.

I'll only be in the store for a minute.

This one is not likely to be so short a period of time though...

  • Why does the Cambridge dictionary say “10 minutes” is possible in the same sense?
    – user139825
    Aug 21, 2021 at 3:26
  • I see. I think it doesn't belong there.
    – user3169
    Aug 21, 2021 at 3:32
  • I’m panic… Why does the second most authoritative dictionary say the wrong examples?
    – user139825
    Aug 21, 2021 at 3:33
  • I've revised my answer. Actually, Cambridge doesn't specify singular vs. plural. Just specific "xx minutes" vs. non-specific "a minute". They just mixed them in the examples section.
    – user3169
    Aug 21, 2021 at 3:41
  • Why did you get a downvote?
    – user139825
    Aug 21, 2021 at 10:41

That sentence is in the "More examples" section, not specifically under one definition or the other. "Ten minutes" refers to the exact unit of time, as you thought.

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