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Are these expressions syntactically correct and semantically equivalent? What is general rules for "number-time noun" and "number time' noun" from semantic point of view?

  • "a day's work" vs "one-day work"
  • "two days' notice" vs "two-day notice"
  • "one year's pay" vs "one-year pay"

also see here.

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+150

•"a day's work" vs "one-day work"
•"two days' notice" vs "two-day notice"
•"one year's pay" vs "one-year pay"

The phrases I have italicised do not work. A quick survey of the citations in the BNC and COCA of 'one day [noun]' suggested that nouns following this compound adjective are always countable. Thus we can have a one/two-day job or two/three/etc one-day jobs, but we cannot have one-day work.

Huddleston & Pullum, (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002.470) note that what they call 'measure genitives' ([an hour's delay], [one week's holiday])

measure just temporal length or value; we do not have, for example, (*)They had [a mile's walk] (spatial distance) or (*)We bought [a pound's carrots] (weight). ... An alternative means of expressing measure is to use a compound adjective, as in a [two-hour delay], a [five-mile walk], an [eight-pound] baby, etc.

Quirk et al (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language, 1985.325) note:

With temporal nouns in the plural, the apostrophe is sometimes omitted: several weeks/weeks' vacation.

They also note that in some quantitive expressions

there is a possible variation:

a ten day absence [singular]
A ten-day absence [hyphen + singular]
a ten days absence[plural]
a ten days' absence [genitive plural]

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In American English, the following expressions are common:

  • "A day's work"
  • "A one-day job"
  • "One day of work"
  • "two days' notice"
  • "one year's pay"
  • "annual pay"

And the following expressions are unusual or rare. Most of them would probably be interpreted correctly, though:

  • "one-day work" (This might be misinterpeted as meaning "might work someday in the future".)
  • "two-day notice"
  • "one-year pay"
  • About that misinterpretation, won't it be ...work one day... instead of ....one day work...? – Maulik V Oct 4 '14 at 5:45
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    @MaulikV -- You are correct that "It'll work one day" and "Some day it'll work" sound more natural to my American ear than "One day it'll work". But the possibility still exists for "One day work" to be misinterpreted as "One day it'll work" or "Some day work", especially if the usage is verbal instead of written. – Jasper Oct 4 '14 at 6:32
  • "one-day work" "two-day notice" "one-year pay" - none of these would be acceptable to me, in any circumstance. UK Eng. – Tetsujin Nov 8 '14 at 21:36
  • @Tetsujin a two-day notice is absolutely fine at least in InE. Two-day would serve as an adjective. books.google.co.in/… – Maulik V Nov 19 '14 at 11:47
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I think it depends on the context and dialect.

For the first example, If you have a small sentence with a clear context, the message is clear as well!

This is a day's work = This is a one-day work (where one-day would serve as an adjective).

However, if you dig in further, what Jasper says seems to be correct. I searched for the term on COCA where ...one day work.. in sentences mean some day it'll work.

The list of examples prove it:

We picture him a biologist, an entomologist, someone who will one day work at a university.

He became a specialist on the dive team because he figures he can one day work as a commercial underwater welder.

Alysha even made up her mind that just like Dion, she would one day work with famed record producer-songwriter David Foster.

BUT, as I said, that's for the first example of yours.

While Tetsjin says in the comment that in BrE, it does not sound grammatical and COCA backs Jasper's view on this, Indian English takes some liberty.

In InE, such usage is fine. We often say, "I got a two-day notice from her lawyer" or similar example. But I'd certainly use a hyphen there. So the comments teach us that if I'm writing for the American or a British audience, I'd certainly use 'a day's work' and other all first examples over the second ones.

[Since native speakers feel it down or ungrammatical, it is advisable for non native speakers like me to avoid it though it's too common in InE].

  • I think that the interpretation of work as a verb is confusing the issue - the OP seems to be concerned about using a genitive or not in the construction <time><noun>, and the given example of work is not about the verb. – oerkelens Nov 19 '14 at 11:52
  • mea culpa. I took it completely on the basis of OP's first example. This is why I LOVE this site and its users like you. Too prompt, agile, accurate and peculiar about such things! Thank you, sir! :) – Maulik V Nov 19 '14 at 12:03

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