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Subject: 'half' vs. 'quarter'
Question: Hello,

In my perception, there are some cases where the words ''half'' and
''quarter'' can be interchanged without otherwise changing a
sentence:

I ran for a half hour. (OK; some might hyphenate as ''half-hour'')
I ran for a quarter hour. (OK; some might hyphenate as ''quarter-
hour'')

I ran for a half of an hour. (OK, though somewhat unusual)
I ran for a quarter of an hour. (OK)

But in other cases, such an exchange is not possible:

I ran for half of an hour. (OK)
*I ran for quarter of an hour. (ungrammatical)

I ran for half an hour. (OK)
*I ran for quarter an hour. (ungrammatical)

I ran for a half an hour. (OK, if mainly in spoken language)
I ran for a quarter an hour. (this seems to mean ''I was paid $0.25/hr
to run'' rather than ''I ran for 15 minutes'')

What is a linguistic explanation for this difference in the behavior of
''half'' and ''quarter''?

Reply: In my speech the pattern of stars would not be exactly the same as in yours, but like you I can use "half" in some situations where I couldn't use "quaarter". But this is not at all surprising. Obviously "half" is by far the most frequent fraction that people talk about, and when a concept is much more frequent than other comparable concepts it seems quite natural that more constructions involving the word for the common concept will have evolved than constructions involving words for the less frequent concepts. As I see it, this is not much different from saying that if I very often have to walk to the bank but only occasionally need to visit the law court, I might use a variety of routes to get to the former but only know one way to get to the law court.

Geoffrey Sampson

Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
 
Date: 17-Sep-2012
 

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