I know that the right way to say it is:

a one-minute talk

one minute's talk

However, I come across these examples:

  1. Batt's track, “A One Minute's Silence”, consists of the absence of any digital signal, whereas Cage's 4'33”
  2. 'One monstrous fact can be ascertained here in the course of a one-minute's conversation with any official at the Emigrants' depot'
  3. Manchester United players give a one minute's applause in memory of …
  4. This gives a one minute's fall at the lunar orbit corresponding to 60 earth radii as the lunar distance of c(60)(p/ (39,343)2) 1⁄4 15.072 Paris feet.

Are all those typos or not?

  • 1
    What's the purpose of this "a"? Is there a difference between "one minute's talk" and "a one minute's talk"?
    – user1425
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:36
  • 2
    You are not being attentive enough. Take heed. We are not talking about "a one-minute talk", we are talking about "a one minute's talk".
    – user1425
    Sep 19, 2014 at 20:06
  • 4
    Great, now I’m going to have 4′33″ stuck in my head all day. Sep 19, 2014 at 20:38
  • 3
    They're all standard. It has nothing to do with artistic license. Although genitive NPs typically fill the determiner slot (and would therefore not co-occur with a) certain genitive NPs can also appear attributively (e.g. "He lives in an old people's home"). See The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.470, under "Measure genitives", where you can find examples like "a second [one hour's delay]".
    – user230
    Sep 19, 2014 at 23:01
  • 2
    @TylerJamesYoung Consider it 4'33" of time you get to ignore the nonsense around you which you would otherwise have to listen to. Sep 19, 2014 at 23:51

3 Answers 3


No, they're British. I don't think most Americans would bother with the possessive when the phrase works fine without it. Two-minute warning. A moment of silence. A ten-second pause.


A one-minute talk

is quite similar to -

A 24-year-old girl

Now, A one minute's (something)

As we understand that here, the indefinite article is used for something (As in he's a good boy). In other words, the indefinite article is required especially when the coming noun is countable (here, 'boy').

Adding apostrophe shows the possession. As the example on that page is A woman's hat. Woman is a noun here that holds the possession of hat.

One of the examples you quoted is ...

Manchester United players give a one minute's applause in memory of...

One minute is a noun that holds the possession of applause. The definite article makes sense.

I don't see any necessity to put hyphen in your second sentence.


"A one minute talk" is a different scenario from "a one minute's talk".

"A one minute's talk" is wrong.

In English, most singular nouns need a determiner of some kind. Usually these are the articles: "a book", "the book". Sometimes they're demonstrative adjectives: "this book", "that book".

The cardinal number "one" can also be used as a determiner: "one book".

We can also use possessives as determiners: "Bob's book".

Thus, all of the following are correct:

  • "I bought a book."
  • "I bought the book."
  • "I bought this book."
  • "I bought that book."
  • "I bought one book."
  • "I bought Bob's book."

However, each noun can only have one determiner at a time. I wouldn't be able to say "I bought a one book." "A" and "one" are both determiners, and are both referring to "book". You can only have one determiner per noun.

In the phrase "A one minute's talk", "one" acts as the determiner for "minute", and "one minute's" (as a possessive) acts as the determiner for "talk". The "a" is redundant. Thus, you want "one minute's talk".

By comparison: "A one-minute talk" is right.

I can take the phrase "one minute", and treat it as one big adjective. (I would usually indicate this by connecting them with a hyphen - "one-minute".) Thus, I could say:

  • "a talk"
  • "a boring talk"
  • "a one-minute talk"
  • "a longer-than-necessary talk"

All of these are correct, because "a" is the determiner for "talk", and "boring", "one-minute", and "longer-than-necessary" are all behaving as adjectives modifying "talk".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .