LINGUIST List 6.816

Sat Jun 17 1995

Sum: Half a Day

Editor for this issue: Helen Dry <>


  1. B R Maylor, summary: half a day

Message 1: summary: half a day

Date: Thu, 15 Jun 1995 11:23:23 summary: half a day
From: B R Maylor <>
Subject: summary: half a day

Dear Readers,
many thanks to all respondents (51) who sent replies to my query about
time phrases and native-speaker judgments. There were too many replies to
acknowledge individually. Many of you asked for a summary, so here goes.

## = strongly preferred, # = good, ? = awkward, x = bad, yuck
The figures following each phrase give the number of votes cast in each
category. They don't all add up to 51 because some respondents (Rs)
expressed only their first preference.
 ## # ? x
1 The family spent Ipswich.
 a. a day and a half 24 26 0 0
 b. one and a half days 1 31 7 7
 c. thirty-six hours 1 29 6 9

This makes [a] a clear winner, but for many Rs [b] and [c] are
acceptable, too, depending on context.

a. implies enough time to socialize; implies most of Sunday spent in
Ipswich, leaving at noon on Monday

b. implies Ipswich was part of a series of visits; implies an overnight
stay; part of a list; stilted

c. military/aeronautical; whirlwind tour; every moment packed with
feverish activity; at a conference - one and a half days spent on syntax;
working under time pressure; airplane layover/waystation; OK for negative
experiences (flu/jail). (I take it a 'layover' is US for British
'stopover', or maybe it's a stopover with a visit to a girlfriend?)

2. It took me ........ to write the book.
 a. six months 16 34 0 0
 b. a half-year 0 10 9 25
 c. half a year 3 44 1 1

While there is a preference for [a], [c] is not far behind. [b] is

a. feels shorter; not as much effort required as 'half a year'
b. suggests an academic half-year; YUCK, unnatural; sounds non-native or
British (from American Rs); sounds American (from British Rs); OK in
financial contexts - a half year is either the first or second half, not
an arbitrary 6 month period

c. sounds longer than six months; emphatic, with stress on 'year'
3 We'll be leaving in....... a. half an hour 6 44 0 0
 b. a half-hour 2 24 10 11

[a] wins. [b] splits people into two roughly equal camps.

b. sounds formal; awkward; funny; sounds normal - we'll be leaving inna
haf our (from now).

4 Tom worked for ......... in a lab
 a. a year and a half 13 37 1 0
 b. one and a half years 0 32 6 7
 c. eighteen months 3 39 6 0

While [a] wins, the other two aren't so far behind.


a. least exact.

b. more exact; part of calculation (eg for pension); stilted; fussy.

c. most exact; emphasizes duration; OK for children's ages upto two
years; OK in contexts where precision is required; suggests Tom was less
involved in the job; maybe a temporary job.

Using months for time greater than a year, and hours for time greater
than a day makes the time seem more rushed; half an inch is OK but not
half a foot, but half a yard is OK if bying cloth even though we don't
normally speak of half a yard.

The overall impression that I get is that context and pragmatic
considerations determine which lexical item will be acceptable in any
given slot, and even then there is considerably more tolerance for some
expressions than I would have thought possible/probable. Three Rs said
ALL eleven phrases are 100% OK.

I haven't given details of Rs' background/nationality etc, since not all
Rs gave me details. However, about three-quarters of replies came from
the USA.

I hope this has been of some interest. Many thanks for your response.

Roger Maylor
Dept of Linguistics and English Language
University of Durham, UK
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