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Monday, September 15, 2008

Poll Results 4

Here was last week's poll.

It's odd that its tail is missing.
Of coarse I like chocolate, silly.
She took a peek at the present.
He had had three hours' sleep when the alarm went off.

Almost everyone got it right: "coarse" should be "course," of course.

One reader had a question:

Dear Sentence Sleuth,

In the last polling sentence to vote for which sentence has the error:

He had had six hours' sleep when the alarm went off.

I was wondering why hours has an apostrophe at the end? Obviously it is because it is plural, but does it always? And is it ok to write "He had had. . . " I speak like that myself but when it's written it seems awkward.
Any comments you make will be welcome.
Thank you.

Actually, "six hours' sleep" is correct. It is the same as "six hours of sleep." If you were talking about one hour of sleep, you would write "one hour's sleep." Therefore, if you're talking about two hours or more, it's "two hours' sleep."


Anonymous said...

What about the "had had" issue?

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Thanks for asking. The phrase "had had" is actually correct in some cases, as it is here.
I'm actually guest-writing a topic for Grammar Girl for next month, and I'll explain further then. For now, consider these sentences:
She had eaten a whole box of cookies.
She had had too many cookies.
Both "eaten" and "had" are past participles. The first "had" in each case is a helping verb to indicate past perfect tense.