I wrote a sentence like the following one in another site.

"He" as a gender-neutral pronoun had been universally used for centuries before the women's liberation movement in the 1960s.

It was edited by an apparently native English speaker as follows:

"He" as a gender-neutral pronoun was universally used for centuries before the women's liberation movement of the 1960s.

I don't understand why "in the 1960s" should be replaced by "of the 1960s".

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    This native English speaker would have no trouble with of or with in, but would definitely expect to see a definite article: ...women's movement of the 1960's or ...women's movement in the 1960's. – Adam Jan 9 '15 at 0:10
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    @Adam Thanks. I edited the question though I know some native speakers use "in 1960s". – Makoto Kato Jan 9 '15 at 0:23
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    @Makoto - Careful there, I think. You might see those words together when 1960s is being used as an adjective (Things were crazy in 1960s fashion, e.g.), or in headlines (Voter registration up sharply in 1960s), but in your sentences, the the is sorely needed. – J.R. Jan 9 '15 at 1:12
  • @J.R. "but in your sentences, the the is sorely needed." Here's from COCA. Date 2010 (101229) Source Christian Science Monitor: William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's 1990 novel " The Difference Engine " popularized the idea of an alternate history where the Industrial Revolution-level technology of pistons and turbines, not electricity, powers modern gadgets, as Victorians might have designed them. But even way back in 1960s, the television series " The Wild Wild West " helped define the genre. – Makoto Kato Jan 9 '15 at 1:21
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    @MakotoKato In this article (December 29, 2010), it's "But even way back in 1960s, the television series "The Wild Wild West" helped define the genre." In another article by the same author (July 21-27, 2011), it's "Even in the ’60s, the television series “The Wild Wild West” helped define the genre." Also, in one of them, it's The sci-fi western, but in the other it's The sci-fi Western. – Damkerng T. Jan 9 '15 at 4:36

In conversational or informal speech, of the 1960s and in the 1960s may be treated as equivalent, but there is a slight difference in meaning. In refers to a defined time period, whereas of refers to the historical epoch, aspects of which may not correspond to exact dates.

To say something took place in the 1960s is the basic sense of in as

  1. Expressing a period of time during which an event happens or a situation remains the case [ODO]

In other words, at some point between the start of 1960 and the end of 1969, there was a "women's liberation movement" (though academics use that term somewhat differently, and call the broader movement second-wave feminism). Strictly speaking, something that took place in 1959 or 1970 would not be said to have taken place in the 1960s.

To say something happened in the 1960s is very close to saying it happened during the 1960s. If it took place regularly and continuously (or nearly so) you could say it happened throughout the 1960s; continuously but more episodically, it happened over the 1960s; and if it has subsequently ceased, perhaps through the 1960s.

To say something is of the 1960s, on the other hand, means it refers to the things people associate with the 1960s as a historical era— not the 1960s so much as The Sixties. This is the same way we might speak of the Victorian Gothic architecture of Keating Hall at Fordham University, though it was built in 1935, decades after the literal end of the Victorian Age.

Of in this case is for

Indicating an association between two entities, typically one of belonging, in which the first is the head of the phrase and the second is something associated with it [ODO]

Many people associate the women's movement with other social movements of the 1960s, but that movement extended beyond the boundaries of the decade. For example, the movement arguably hit its peak in the U.S. with the passage of the (never-ratified) Equal Rights Amendment, clearly a product of the activism of the preceding years, but not a reality until 1972. Similarly, Wikipedia entitles its article Counterculture of the 1960s, because salient aspects of the phenomenon continued or were manifested long after the calendar 1960s ended.

I frequently discuss with friends the disconnection between our ("Gen-X" American) associations of decades with actual dates. The '80s, we mostly agree, began with Reagan's inauguration (over a year into the chronological 1980s), but we argue over whether the zeitgeist ended with the 1987 stock market crash, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the invasion of Iraq in 1991.

The time scale, lastly, allows for some adjustment: Christmas is of December even though the religious season is in both December and January; Marx lived in the 19th century but the application of his ideology as an international revolutionary movement is of the 20th century.

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I beg to differ with that native speaker! That's because movements happen in the years specified. The movements are general and they may happen in any year depending upon the outrage of public or whatsoever. On the other hand, when we are talking about a title, of the year is common - Say The person of the year.

Not asked in the question but worth mentioning -

Now, whether it takes the definite article. Yes, standard references say that and so most of the natives would. Because...

1960s is the decade from 1960 to 1969. It comprises those ten years. Without the definite article, 1960s is possible but then it would be attributive as J.R. says. Check this -

(19)70s music is the golden era of music in Bollywood.

In other words, you may opt for no article when you use the year to express it adjectivally.

But then, when you want to talk about 'the era' itself (as a noun), you place the indefinite article.

Young people in the United States are safer than in the 1970s

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    Is that BrE perhaps? I know they say, "in hospital". But I would never say "In 1970s, something happened." That's ungrammatical to me. It would have to be, "In the 1970s, something happened." (AmEng) – CoolHandLouis Jan 9 '15 at 7:37
  • Also, are you saying you can use "the 1970s" attributively? – CoolHandLouis Jan 9 '15 at 7:39
  • @CoolHandLouis of course, that's what I said... In the 1970s, something happened. You need the article there. BTW, why does 'hospital' come here? Were you writing this on 'in hospital' question? – Maulik V Jan 9 '15 at 8:23
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    Sorry I'm still a bit confused. I'll itemize my concerns. Firstly, I don't see "In the 1970s" in your post. In fact, I don't see "the 1970s" in your post. Secondly, are you saying you can use both "1970s" (no article) and "the 1970s" (with article) attributively? What are you saying that's "special" about using/not-using an article? Thirdly, I find "In 1970s, something happened" to be ungrammatical (unless it's a non-AmEng sort of thing, somewhat akin to the BrEng "in hospital"). Are you posing this as proper English? If so, what dialect? – CoolHandLouis Jan 9 '15 at 8:48
  • @CoolHandLouis Firstly, I did not mention the concern but I said without the definite article and explained it. I don't say both can be used attributively. I say without the article, it'll be attributively used. Thirdly, in 1970s, bollywood witnessed its best music -i already clarified what you said, 'in the (incorrect) something happened.' I'm making them boldfaced. – Maulik V Jan 9 '15 at 9:06

The reason that

the women's liberation movement in the 1960s.

is wrong is that in the 1960s should refer to a specific event, but the women's lib movement isn't an event. You could say:

the rise of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s.


the popularising of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s.

as these would be things that happened during the 1960s.

the women's liberation movement of the 1960s.

has a couple of slightly different meanings.

One is that it's just associating the movement with the 1960s. I suspect this is your intent and it works fine that way.

It could also be that it's specifying which women's lib movement. For example we could say:

the feminist movement of the 1960s. (women's lib)

to differentiate it from

the feminist movement of the 1890s. (suffragettes)

Although in this case there's no ambiguity as there only was one 'women's liberation movement', which started in the 1960s, so the addition of of the 1960s is somewhat redundant.

Another potential meaning is if we're discussing the internals of the movement itself. If we were discussing the people and ideas of the movement and how they change over time we could distinguish between the women's lib movement of the 1960s and the women's lib movement of the 1970s.

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