'ten-feet-wide plant'

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Wed May 22 14:39:07 UTC 2002

Hello ADSers,

I'm puzzled by some examples I've recently seen of prenominal measure
phrase-APs that have inflected measure nouns--in both cases it was 'feet'.
To be clearer, here's an example:

 'the 10-feet-wide giant succulent'
                                -- 'Century Plant' Oxford Today 8:1.3, 1995

(Can't find the other example, but it was in a recent New Yorker article
about Patti Smith.)

Now, as far as I'm concerned, this should be

  'the 10-foot-wide giant succulent'

After all, you wouldn't say 'the three-years-old child'.

It's a compound, right?  So inflections shouldn't show up within it.

Since I've only seen this with 'feet', I'm guessing that the irregular
plural form is going under our inflectional radar.  In other Germanic
languages with this construction, the inflections do survive the prenominal
position (so they're not interpreted as compounds there).

Any thoughts on
(a) whether the 'feet' example is ok?
(b) whether it might be UK rather than US?
(c) other (or more detailed) explanations why 'feet' is ok here but 'years'
is not?

Thanks in advance,

Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
Acting Director, MA in Applied Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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