foot vs. feet

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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Topic » Tue Jan 01, 2002 12:03 pm

English is just my 5th language, so sometimes I have a hard time using the correct form of units of measurement. I have no problems with terms such as "a ten-dollar bill" or "four dozen bottles of beer," both not being very logical but obviously sort of established usage. However, in the previous thread covering the use of hyphens in terms such as "6-foot deep holes" it became obvious that there is a certain degree of disagreement even among Americans. I guess the distance between Dale Hileman in California and Ken Greenwald in Colorado isn't big enough to explain the reason why the former mentioned "6-feet deep holes," whereas the latter quoted a "6-foot deep hole."
I understand that "feet" are normally used in terms like "the trail is six feet wide" or "the log was five feet ten inches long," while normally a dimension in attributive position ("a twelve-foot-wide plank") rather uses the singular. The latter seems to apply also to terms where inches are given but not explicetely mentioned, e.g. "The length is two foot nine." However, there seem to be many inconsistencies which I do not quite understand. Are they just caused by sloppy usage of the language or are there any reliable rules? Whenever I think I've found a rule, the next item I stumble across violates it. Some competent clarification is needed.
Submitted by Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 12:17 pm

Hans Jörg,

To my mortification, it appears that it has been discussed twice already on Wordwizard.
"Use of foot or feet"
and a thread usefully entitled "Why?".

There are a couple of other discussions elsewhere on the web that also pussyfoot around a clear conclusion.
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 12:32 pm

Atta boy Hans, learn -- one foot at a time for mankind. Remember this one rule; "If you have more than one foot, behold, you have feet." Now you can take steps, instead of hopping.
Reply from Felix Scribe (Earth, Delware - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 12:46 pm

Phil, I had read those threads before I posted my own inquiry. "Use of foot or feet" lists the same rules I mentioned above, plus a few more that have not been new to me either, whereas the thread very aptly entitled "Why?" deals with what I called an "attributive position."
The crucial part of my inquiry, however, is the fact that many of the rules that have been listed so far are violated time and again in all sorts of publications, even in technical magazines that otherwise show a language of fairly high level. The incidence of departures from the rules listed in my inquiry as well as in those other threads somehow implies either the existence of additional rules which I do not know or just negligence. If the latter is the case, maybe I should just stop worrying.
Felix, I may be a bit dense, but now I wonder if I missed the point of your message or you missed mine.
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:01 pm

The depth of a six-foot hole is six feet. In the first case, foot is being used as part of an adjective phrase modifying hole. Adjectives do not have plurals. Try some other examples with words that take an 's':
A two-term president serves two terms.
An eight-step ladder has eight steps.
A popsicle truck sells 50 different popsicles.

Reply from Russ Cable (Dallas, TX - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:15 pm

Sorry Hans, only joking.
If I take 5 measurements of a foot long each, do we have five foots there? Can't be five feet, no, no.
Reply from Felix Scribe (Earth, Delware - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:29 pm

How many foots equal a yard?
Reply from Felix Scribe (Earth, Delware - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:44 pm

Felix, as I mentioned above, English is just #5 in the list of languages I speak, and it took me quite a long time to realize that the plural of crowfoot (a buttercup flower) is crowfoots, not crowfeet.
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:58 pm

Hans Jörg,

Most of the rules you will read will just about hold water. Some of the rules appear to be a little flexible around the edges. Most of the rest of the apparent exceptions you see can probably be put down to dialect or informal usage. My Grandfather, a genuine Bow-Bells Cockney, would always use the singular: "a five-mile round-trip", "they drove five mile". If you stick to the suggestions cited from the Bloomsbury Good Word Guide, you won't go far wrong.

And no, I also have no idea what Felix is wittering about.
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 2:13 pm

Hans, I found two discussions on this subject in ‘authoritative’ sources, neither of which agree with Bloomsbury on the point that “a pane of glass measuring two foot six by four foot three” is correct usage. But other than this one point I could think of no exceptions to the rule’s of thumb that they offer (although there might be some).

Garner’s Modern American Usage offers the following simple advice:

FOOT:FEET. WHEN YOU USE A NUMBER GREATER THAN ONE TO DENOTE A DISTANCE , USE THE PLURAL ‘FEET’ <A FENCE TEN FEET HIGH>, UNLESS THE DISTANCE IS PART OF A PHRASAL ADJECTIVE <A TEN-FOOT FENCE>.

The above ‘rule’ would then argue for a six-foot-deep hole where the hyphenated expression is the phrasal adjective and against a six-feet deep hole, where 6-feet is being used as a phrasal adjective. But then what about your “the length is two foot nine.” Well, according to this rule it is wrong and should be “the length is two feet nine.”
_______________________________

‘The Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage’ compiled by William and Mary Morris provides the consensus of opinion of 155 distinguished consultants on usage. And here’s their take on this subject:

FOOT / FEET: If English were logical, a pole measuring three feet would be described a ‘three-feet pole.’ The accepted idiom, however, is “three-foot pole.” It is difficult to make a rule on this, but IF THE MODIFIER COMES BEFORE THE NOUN IT IS SINGULAR AND PLURAL IF IT COMES AFTER: “a pole six feet long.”

Such an expression as “He’s a six-footer” is acceptable as a shortened form of “He’s a six-foot man.” “She’s five foot two,” despite the popular song of the twenties, is in error. The correct form is “She’s five feet, two inches,” [[ in agreement with Garner’s conclusion that the “length is two feet nine” is the correct form]].
________________________________

My humble opinion on the above disputed technicality is that if these great authorities (Bloomsbury and the above two) can’t agree, it probably doesn’t make much difference and that there is no ‘right’ answer – she’s ‘five foot two’ or ‘she’s five feet, two inches’ are both perfectly acceptable.
__________________

Ken G – June 11, 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 2:27 pm

You just beat me, Ken, but I'll post anyway:

I'm almost totally limited to English, Hans, and I never even considered the existence of a plural of 'crowfoot'.
I seem to remember that teachers I encountered appeared to differ in their "rules" for using 'foot' or 'feet' predicatively - usually depending on which department they belonged to. The Craft (nowadays Craft, Design & Technology) Teachers were the most vocal: "You must always use 'foot' for measurements." But then, they also demanded that we put decimal points 'on the line' when giving measurements, but 'half way up' in pure numbers, and that we NEVER speak of a metal ruleR. The English Teachers wisely kept out of the debate.
Phil, the 1985 edition of "The Right Word at the Right Time", Reader's Digest, which I hope concurs with 'Bloomsbury' (though somehow I doubt it) advises:
(1) Attributive compounds (eg a SIX-FOOT hole ; a TEN POUND note) almost always use the singular (a nine days' wonder might be considered an exception)
(2) Predicative units always use the plural where applicable (eg we walked A MILE, we walked TWO MILES)
(3) But - the word "foot" has two plural forms, "FOOT" and "FEET" - when used as a measurement.
(4) Of the two, "feet" is more usual for precise measurements, and is more formal. "Foot" sounds more informal - thus in everyday speech, "He's six foot two" is a common construction. "He's six foot two inches" would, however, sound more awkward than: "He's six feet two inches."
But few native Brits, even - or perhaps especially - will be totally consistent. Unless they're Craft Teachers.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 2:41 pm

Thank you very much folks. I think we all got the picture. There are certain rules I knew anyway and sometimes even use them, and for the rest I'll stop worrying about making mistakes but keep on teasing my American fiancée whenever she makes the very same mistakes.
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 2:56 pm

One musn't forget the 'club foot' and the 'flat feet.'
Most importantly, never forget the danger that lurks in the 'Left foot.'
Marching Orders - Left Foot First

To start something on the right foot is not only an expression, but a custom once almost obsessively observed. To get out of bed "on the wrong side," and enter a home with the left foot first, augured misfortune. A notable exception is the marching of soldiers. They are trained to step out with their left foot first, and well known is the marching order "left, right, left, right!"

The shouted command "left, right" may roll off a sergeant major's tongue more easily and smoothly than "right, left." But there is another explanation for putting your left foot first, and it is based upon superstition.

The majority of people are right-handed. Consequently, their left is their weaker side. Superstitiously, they believed that evil forces, out to do them harm, cleverly would attack them from the left. This "left" came to be identified with the devil, which explains why the Latin for "left" became the English word "sinister."

It is no wonder then that putting one's left foot first was seen as an indication of evil and of aggressive intentions. To enter a home thus showed hostility. One of the original functions of footmen which also explains their name was to guard the entrance of a home to watch visitor's feet and make sure that they would not enter with their "hostile" foot first. It followed that, in contrast, an army, trained to be aggressive, would start marching with their left feet first. Magically, it was imagined, this would increase their fighting prowess. Most of all, they would gain the assistance of all the dark and sinister forces of the occult world. A vivid illustration of this choice of foot in military action is an early frieze, excavated at the Mausoleum in Bodrum, Turkey. It shows a soldier engaged in "hand to hand" (!) combat, kicking his enemy in the groin with his left foot!

This background may well be the primary (though now forgotten) reason for the martial tradition of giving priority to the left foot. Even if no occult power came to the soldier's assistance, the very practice would psych them up to be at their most aggressive.

Reply from Bruce Capwell (Boston, Ma - U.S.A.)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 3:10 pm

Bruce, this also applies to people who are Muslim. When using a foot or an arm/hand it must be the right one.When entering a home the person who is standing on the left must let the people standing on the right enter first.
Ahmed
13th of June ,2004
Reply from Ahmed ELNamer (Dawson Creek - Canada)
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foot vs. feet

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 3:25 pm

Fat hobbit has very big footses, Precious.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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