Telling tall tales

This is something that gets me each time I come across it. I don’t know why, but I must look it up each time I come across this in a manuscript.

They’re six foot. No, they’re six-feet. Or are they six foot tall? Six-foot-tall?

Whenever I look things up, I turn first to my trusty books. See this post about some of these books.

First, let’s look at this flagpole.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

I know you cannot tell, but it’s three feet. So, it’s a three-foot flagpole. What’s the difference?

Photo by Skitterphoto on

Well we have foot (singular) used in one description of the stick but feet (plural) used in the other. When do we use the singular and when do we use the plural? I’ve tried to break it down into four rules. If anyone has an easier way of remembering this information, I’d be over the moon to hear it!

Here goes.

Rule number one: when you are creating a compound (with a hyphen) it’s singular. For example, a six-inch ruler or a six-foot tall door.

Rule number two: when followed by an adjective (a describing word) it’s plural. Using the examples above, the ruler is six inches long or the door is six feet tall.

Rule number three: No adjective? Back to singular again. Our ruler is a six inch ruler and our door is a six foot door.

Photo by ArtHouse Studio on
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Confusing rule four: We mostly come across this when describing a character’s height, so we’ll take Chris. Chris is six foot three. Here foot is singular because the word inches isn’t there. If we add the word, we get Chris is six feet three inches.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

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