One fine morning, I woke up, made a lame Tweet (as usual) and triggered a very interesting conversation where another chap and me formulated a basic grammar rule about lump quantities and individual items, starting from most basic observation and reasoning. After that we had a philosophical semi-scientific discussion about whether sleep is a lump quantity or individually countable item and decided upon the grammatical correctness of my tweet. This is the story of that discussion.
"Aculy woke up 2.5 hours back after 4 hours sleep" (https://twitter.com/Stupidosaur/status/390997751967662080)
(whrere aculy is of course Dolan style of saying 'actually')
In a few short instants I started wondering, whether the usage was grammatically correct (apart from the 'aculy' of course)
So I tweeted
Which one has the correct grammar?
1) I woke up after 4 hours sleep.
2) I woke up after 4 hour's sleep.
3) I woke up after 4 hours' sleep.
Most replies were either 1), 2 or 3) or a simple 'none'. But one reply from Mr. Palindrome (@im_nits) which disagreed with all 3 was more specific in its objection and started a pretty interesting discussion. Initially we disagreed and couldn't find the references for the actual grammar rules to support either of our stances, but then by basic observation and critical thinking, we figured out and agreed on at least two grammar rules. (We didn't know what to Google for and hence couldn't find these rules on the internet. If you know that these specific rules are true and exist, or if you know they contradict or are inconsistent with the existing rules, it would be great if you tell us abotu them or link to them in comments!)
And after figuring the framework of grammar we needed, we continued into a philosophical debate about nature of sleep, which was still necessary to answer the question of correct grammar, within the framework of grammar rules we agreed upon. It was fun and interesting!
Without much further ado, let me present the conversation itself. I am too bored to link to each tweet or to embed each tweet here. But you can reach them from the original grammar question mentioned in this post above. (Grammar errors & typos have been corrected and sometimes the sentence structure has been improved, because hey we all tend to type away a little carelessly and quickly on Twitter without much review or editing!)
Stupidosaur (me): Which one has the correct grammar?
1) I woke up after 4 hours sleep.
2) I woke up after 4 hour's sleep.
3) I woke up after 4 hours' sleep.
Mr. Palindrome: None. It should be "I woke up after a 4 hour sleep" or "I woke up after 4 hours of sleep".
Stupidosaur(me): 4 hours of sleep? Or sleep of 4 hours? And sleep of 4 hours becomes 4 hours' sleep.
Mr. Palindrome: No one says sleep of 4 hours. The right conjunction is 'for'. Sleep for 4 hours.
Stupidosaur(me): And you woke up after 'sleep FOR 4 hours'? That is plain wrong grammar.
Mr. Palindrome: Yeah didn't put it in that sentence. 'For' should be used differently. maybe your third option is correct after all.
Stupidosaur (me): At least it plays well with Hindi translation : 4 ghante ki neend. Now I am wondering if it is general English or Indian peculiarity.
Mr. Palindrome: Yes! But literal translation is not always correct. Maybe we should contact a professional English teacher to solve this :)
Stupidosaur (me): The first option) '4 hours sleep' seems ok too, like '4 kg wheat'. Hours can be taken as the unit of measuring sleep.
Mr. Palindrome: That is just a quick way of saying it. It is always 4 kg of wheat or 5 litres of water. We miss the "of" in quick speech.
Stupidosaur (me): Quick but grammatically correct?
Mr. Palindrome: No.
Stupidosaur (me): Well, in absence of any formal known rule, what sounds right is right and in fact grammar rules form later, around what is actually spoken and seems right. Do you know any reference?
Mr. Palindrome: I don't know any rules or reference but I'm sure 'of'' has to be used with units. What is common usage and what sounds right often makes us think its correct grammar.
Stupidosaur (me): "A 12 km road." sounds more correct than "A 12 km of road." Actually '12 km of road' would be right too but in a different context.
Mr. Palindrome: Use that in a sentence. e.g.: I walked 12 km of paved road before I reached the river bank. "a 12km road" makes it an adjective.
Stupidosaur (me): Ok, let's say that road leads to a town. The town has 100 people. Sometimes you may want to talk about the town of 100 people and sometimes you may want to talk about 100 people of the town. Similarly, if your primary focus is the number of hours, and then the question is that many hours of what activity, we can say it was 4 hours of sleep. But if your primary focus is the activity sleep itself, then the question is sleep of what duration, it becomes 'sleep of 4 hours'. So I think 4 hours of sleep and sleep of 4 hours are both correct. And from sleep of 4 hours, 4 hours' sleep follows as correct.
Mr. Palindrome: The logic you gave makes 4 hours' sleep right but in that sentence it doesn't quite sound right. it's missing the article 'a'. so how does "I woke up after a 4 hours' sleep"
(I am sorry I seemed to have missed replying to his suggestion, which sounds correct. Instead I continued with my thread, which brings some additional angles in the discussion into the usage of 'of'' between unit of quantity and the quantified noun.)
Stupidosaur (me): But we may need to still decide about 4 hours sleep (option one) vs 4 hours of sleep.But then 1000 tons ship seems better than 1000 tons of ship.
Mr. Palindrome: 1000 tons is not a measure of the ship itself. its a measure of its weight. 4kg of rice is a measure of how much rice I bought.
Stupidosaur (me): I think I have it figured. Consider a chicken that weighs 2kg kg. When alive it is a 2 kg chicken. When dead it is 2 kg of meat. So unit isn't followed by 'of' it is a complete specific item in itself, and it is followed by 'of' if it is a bulk measured thing. So whether 4 hours sleep or 4 hours of sleep boils down to philosophical question of how we treat the sleep itself :) Another example. A wrestler in a ring is a 120 kg wrestler, not 120 kg of wrestler. Same wrestler in a lift is 120 kg of load.Similarly coming back to 12 km road question, if you are taking of a specific road or route, it is a 12 km road (no 'of''). But when you talk of how much of a distance or bulk quantity you still need to cover, you say I still have 12 km of road to cover. If all this makes sense, we can (if you like) try to figure whether sleep is a whole activity unit or a bulk measured thing :) You know, like a 5 day test match (no 'of' present) vs talking about specific hours OF play in a day OF the match.
Mr. Palindrome: Sorry I was reading and trying to make sense :) I agree to it and have a different (simpler?) way of dealing with it
Stupidosaur (me): Do tell.
Mr. Palindrome: It has to do with qualitative and quantitative assessment. Use 'of'' if you are talking about quantity, don't use 'of'' if quality. 120km road, 120kg wrestler, 5 day test match all talk about quality. 120km of road, 4kg of rice etc talk of quantity. I think u said the same thing in different words :-)
Stupidosaur (me): Umm no. Wrestler is a person, not quality. Road is a road, not a different quality of line. Test match is a game, not different quality of exercise. How does 'quality' figure in this? We are talking about individual objects vs bulk material. Simple. A 100 gm gold necklace vs 100 gm of gold. We are not talking about quality of workmanship of the necklace or of the quality/purity of gold. We are talking about a specific object vs bulk
Mr. Palindrome: I meant road's quality, as in some attribute of the road.
Stupidosaur (me): I don't get it/ I disagree. A 12 km muddy or concrete road is still a 12 km road. It is not about quality.
Mr. Palindrome: Hmm ok. I get it now. Individual object or bulk material. so now we can discuss which category sleep belongs to...
Stupidosaur (me): How about this simple opening stance : If you woke up naturally, it was a complete sleep and hence object entity in itself. So it will be an n hours sleep.But if it was disturbed sleep, incomplete sleep, jarred by alarm, noises etc, u had n hours of sleep
Mr. Palindrome: I don't think how you wake up has anything to do with sleep being one object or bulk. It is a bulk item like rice, meat and gold in previous examples. but unlike rice and gold, you can't put sleep into packages. So its always n hours of sleep.
Stupidosaur (me): Sleep experts disagree. There are various stages of sleep, I don't know all, but REM is a well known one, for example. It is like you may end up having a 90 years life (no 'of'), but say college years were the best 5 years OF your life.
Mr. Palindrome: Isn't this opposite of what we agreed? 'Of'' in case of bulk and no 'of' in case of objects :P
Stupidosaur (me): Sleep is like life. It's a many hours sleep,like many years life and again made up of many hours OF sleep like many years OF life.
Mr. Palindrome: If you talk about stages of sleep, should we say 4 hours REM sleep? 4 hours ABC sleep? (similar to 120kg wrestlert)
Stupidosaur (me): 4 hours OF REM sleep is right. It is a particular type of sleep, like gold is particular type of metal. But when you put it together with other stages of sleep, (particular hours OF each type of sleep), it forms a complete individual event of sleep.
Mr. Palindrome: Since we agreed 'of'' will be used for bulk we can't use 'of'' for each type of sleep (if it's treated as a separate object). Also, you might want to read this article on BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24444634. It might throw some light. Need to go now.We shall continue later.
Stupidosaur (me): Yes that is fine, though not most detailed. So you see, there are different parts to sleep. which go to make the whole object sleep Just like necklace has different links, say of different metals. The silver link, when spoken as a whole is say 4 g silver link. And it has 4 g of silver. Similarly REM phase may be a (for example) 1 hour REM phase (whole), made of 1 hour OF REM sleep. where the individual minutes of the 1 hour of REM phase are more or less identical and hence a bulk measured thing. But they make up the whole unit REM phase when completed, like the link of the necklace. And finally the various links make the necklace which is say 50 g necklace. Similarly, individual (more or less similar) minutes OF the REM sleep form the REM phase, and that which other phases finally forms your 8 hour (or whatever duration u naturally wake up in) sleep as one sweet complete unit (No OF) I woke up in 4 hours, feeling fresh, with a nice natural complete unit of sleep. So "I woke up after 4 hours sleep." is fine :)
Mr Palindrome has not replied since then, as he had said he needed to go. I wait for him to continue later, as he promised.
But I enjoyed this discussion quite a bit because we started with some disagreements, as well as no known grammar rules except notions about what sounds like a valid sentence and what doesn't. And from there we logically reached an agreement about option 3) being correct grammar
I woke up after (a) 4 hours' sleep.
(Maybe it does sound better with the 'a' that Mr. Palindrome had suggested, and which I had failed to notice before going over our conversation again to write this blog post!)
After that we formulated and logically agreed upon a grammar rule about usage of 'of'' with measuring units. Within the framework of this rule we are now trying to decide the usage of 'of'' when measuring sleep on somewhat philosophical and wacky grounds, to decide if the original option one
I woke up after 4 hours sleep
is valid one without an 'of'' between 'hours' and 'sleep' or not.
It all depends on whether we agree sleep is a single object or a bulk measured material. Before writing this blog I wasn't sure if I could convince Mr. Palindrome that sleep can indeed be treated like a single object, and hence there is no need for 'of'. But while nearing the conclusion of this blog I found something by virtue of which Mr. Palindrome himself agrees that sleep can indeed be treated as a single object instead of bulk material (which is valid too, in a slightly different usage)
Recall that Mt. Palindrome recommended the 'a' in the below sentence (which was our option 3) without the 'a':
I woke up after a 4 hours' sleep.
So we are effectively treating sleep as 'a sleep'. That itself implies we have accepted the sleep as a single event or entity. For example, picking from some of the earlier unique entity vs bulk material examples, 'a gold necklace' makes sense. But 'a gold' doesn't make sense. So 'a' goes with particular or singular entities but not with bulk measured material. So the acceptance of option three with added 'a' indicates our internal acceptance of 'sleep' as a single event or entity! So we can indeed say 4 hours sleep, instead of having to put an 'of' in between to make it 4 hours of sleep!
So I think this is almost settled. I may update with Mr. Palindrome's response after he reads this. But anyway, it was good early morning fun! Somewhat like reaching complex mysteries of the universe starting from most fundamental indisputable thoughts, as Rene Descartes suggested, with
I think therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum.