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Hello,

Here is a sentence from a TIME article.

If Clinton has proven one thing over the course of her decades-long stint in politics, it’s that Hillary Clinton is going to Hillary Clinton.

My question.
Why do you say "decades-long" while you say "year-long" not "years-long"?
Is there a difference between a plural and singular?
"year-long" means just one year and "years-long" means more than two years?

Yoko
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Hi, Yoko,

I think the journalist meant to write: "Hillary Clinton is going to be Hillary Clinton." What follows that sentence in the article is precisely a reassertion of her identity: "She is only what she is, and she will be only what she can be."

Now, let's focus on your question:

We can say both "decades-long" and "years-long" (definition) to refer to something respectively lasting for two or more decades or years.

"decade-long" and "year-long" will then be used to indicate a duration of one decade and one year, respectively.

However, compound adjectives including a numeral before the measure will be followed by the unit of measurement in the singular:

- a three-decade-long career
- a four-year-old girl
quote:
What is the meaning of the part in bold?
Hello, Ms. Tan,

Gustavo and Yoko have discussed that point above, and I agree with the conclusion they reached: the writer made a typo; she neglected to type "be" between "to" and "Hillary." The sentence should be:
  • If Clinton has proven one thing over the course of her decades-long stint in politics, it’s that Hillary Clinton is going to be Hillary Clinton.
That's a different way of saying: "If Clinton has proven one thing, it's that she's going to be herself." To be yourself means to be who you are, to express your personality and values, come what may.

Admittedly wildly late to this conversation, but while I agree with others on the "decades-long" issue, I disagree that the verb be was left out. In my sense of it, the author is using the name "Hillary Clinton" as a verb, in the same way we now "Google" something. So the sense of it is that Hillary Clinton is going to continue to do all the things we associate with Hillary Clinton. She's going to Hillary Clinton the **** out of things. 

I agree with Gustavo about using the singular unit when including the number of the measurement before it (the "three-decade-long career") but note an issue  about the use of "decades-long" and "years-long" as adjectives not previously discussed. 

When the unit is plural, we must include apostrophes: "decades'-long stint" and "years'-long agreement" are correct.  

onehsancare posted:

When the unit is plural, we must include apostrophes: "decades'-long stint" and "years'-long agreement" are correct.  

Hello, Onehsancare, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange!

I'm sorry I have to say I don't agree with you about the plural "decades" and "years" taking an apostrophe when followed by an adjective ("long" in this case).

I think you are confused with attributive non-hyphenated phrases formed by a cardinal number (or a determiner like several or many) followed by a plural time noun, such as:

- five years' experience
- two weeks' notice

Hello, David Sherr, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

David Sherr posted:

In a review in the Book Review section of the NY Times, the reviewer, Saidiya Hartman, writes "decade's-long conversation..."  That can't possibly be correct, can it?

On Google, "decade-long conversation" beats "decade's-long conversation" 6,640 to 72. There are a couple of pages using the latter that look reliable, but the evidence seems to be strongly in favor of the former.

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