The Apostrophe in “Five Days’ Notice”

A couple of days ago I received from a reader an email that included the following:

I’ve got a question about the use of apostrophes in notice period provisions. I was rather surprised to see that section 8.96 of the MSCD includes apostrophes after the number of days/weeks/months in your example provisions. Shouldn’t such provisions simply refer to “days”, “weeks” or “months” without the apostrophe? As I read it, including an apostrophe indicates a possessive (i.e., that day/week/month owns the notice period) and I always thought the reference should simply be to the number of days/weeks/months (i.e., the “s” is there because the reference is typically to multiple days/weeks/months). Do the days/weeks/months really own the notice period or am I thinking about this wrong?

A deeply unscientific review of a sample of contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the last few days showed that of those contract that included the usage X days’ notice, about one third dispensed with the apostrophe. That being the case, I thought my response to this reader might be of broader interest. Here it is:

Regarding the apostrophe after notice, think how you’d refer to a notice period that’s one day long: you’d say one day’s notice, with an apostrophe, not one day notice. So when you refer to a notice period that’s several days long, you say days’, with the apostrophe.

As to why you use the possessive at all, I think it’s because five days’ notice is an alternative to notice of five days. That’s analogous to David’s hat being equivalent to the hat of David.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

23 thoughts on “The Apostrophe in “Five Days’ Notice””

  1. Check out the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” The author, Lynne Truss, is a colorful grammar zealot. In one publicity stunt, she was protesting the premiere of the film “Two Weeks Notice” by holding up an apostrophe on a big stick. Among other things, she explains pretty clearly that the apostrophe is proper punctuation. When I was working at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the judges corrected a barrister’s brief for this point. I mentioned it to another barrister who was going to trial the next day and, despite his claim that he didn’t make that mistake, another judge caught him for the exact same thing.

    Your reason, by the way, is correct.

    Here’s Truss’s excerpt:

    Everywhere one looks, there are signs of ignorance and indifference. What about that film Two Weeks Notice? Guaranteed to give sticklers a very nasty turn, that was – its posters slung along the sides of buses in letters four feet tall, with no apostrophe in sight. I remember, at the start of the Two Weeks Notice publicity campaign in the spring of 2003, emerging cheerfully from Victoria Station (was I whistling?) and stopping dead in my tracks with my fingers in my mouth. Where was the apostrophe? Surely there should be an apostrophe on that bus? If it were “one month’s notice” there would be an apostrophe (I reasoned); yes, and if it were “one week’s notice” there would be an apostrophe. Therefore “two weeks’ notice” requires an apostrophe! Buses that I should have caught (the 73; two 38s) sailed off up Buckingham Palace Road while I communed thus at length with my inner stickler, unable to move or, indeed, regain any sense of perspective.

  2. 10803: Thanks. I looked at the reference works to hand and didn’t find anything directly on point. As for Truss, “colorful” is a nice way to put it! Ken

  3. See: The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary usage and Style,at p. 37; and Bernstein, The Careful Writer, at p. 357.

  4. Wing: Thank you. But note that for purposes of this issue, which is pretty straightforward, I didn’t feel the need to consult a usage manual before sounding off. Ken

  5. How about a one-week notice or a five-month notice? Why bat only the apostrophe when the hyphen is ready to be pitched?

    • A one-week notice period is required but so is also one week’s notice!

      A five-month notice is fine, so is a five month notice period, so is a notice period of five months, but five months’ notice is shorter!

      (Maybe a five-month notice is a “noun” – a thing, but five month’s notice is a verb – a doing sentance!?)

  6. The problem is, my MS Word spellchecker keeps wanting me to add the apostrophe in terms like “from partum to 11 or 18 days post-partum). “…. where I really don’t think it’s indicated.

  7. The beginning line:

    “A couple of days ago I received from a reader an email that included the following” is wrong according to the article right? Days becomes days’ Right?

  8. I have always agreed with the rule you adopt, but now I am wavering — because, I think, it’s not the same as “David’s hat/Hat of David” — “five days notice” stands in for “a notice period five days long,” which itself stands for some idea that “You have met your duty if you give notice within (x) (unit of time)s from the event that triggers the start of the notice period.”

    A time period is not possessive. Days do not possess notices.

    • I agree that it’s not purely possessive, but feel that an apostrophe is nonetheless required. I think, rather than David’s hat, you can treat “notice” as “time”. “One day’s notice” is akin to saying “In one day’s time”. You’d never say “in three day time”, or indeed “in three days time”. (Hopefully.)

      And so, I give you all three days’ notice that correctly-positioned apostrophes will be required thereafter. ;)

      • The engineer in me responds that we have now deviated from the normal meaning of required and into matters of taste. Your gloss is not worse than mine, I grant you, but then I think that it means that either of us has a good argument for our choice. I don’t think the absence of the apostrophe in “I reject the attempt to require apostrophes after a three days notice period” creates any ambiguity or detracts from readability or clarity; thus, since my underlying rule in work writing is to use only the _required_ punctuation, and to use it consistently, I think I will stop using apostrophes in these sorts of settings.

  9. The tip says “Regarding the apostrophe after notice, think…”. You mean the apostrophe before notice or the one after day/days.

  10. I don’t think of “five days’ notice” as an alternative to “notice of five days.” Rather, I think of it as an alternative to “notice within five days.” That’s why there should not be an apostrophe. The days do not own the notice.

  11. Just another point of view… I disagree with the above, the apostrophe is for abbreviation, i.e., ‘7 days of notice’ is equivalent to ‘7 days’ notice’. Using ‘days’ with or without an apostrophe for a period of 1 day is just lazy.

        • Posting this I am a commentator on English usage and I entirely agree with James Loughin.

          “One day notice” is entirely clear and what I would write and say regardless of others’ opinions. “One days notice” is wrong as days is singular day should not be plural. “One day’s notice” is very obviously completely muddled, it is neither an abbreviation or a possessive.

          The Emperor’s New Clothes springs to mind.

          • Here’s what Garner’s Modern English Usage (5th ed. 2023) says:

            The idiomatic possessive should be used with periods of time and statements of worth—hence 30 days’ notice (i.e., notice of 30 days), three days’ time, 20 dollars’ worth, and several years’ experience.

            But you don’t care about the options of others, so I needn’t have bothered.

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