Language Rules

Definately Fixing Alot Of Americas Grammar 1 Word At A Thyme

Language Problems: ‘4 Years(‘) Experience’

with 57 comments

As a non-native speaker, I am sometimes unsure in matters of the English language. While I’m pretty knowledgeable regarding grammar and sentence structure – a knowledge acquired through studying linguistics and also Latin for a number of years – there are some grey spots in my mind.

One such grey spot concerns the construction ‘years experience’. For instance, I have over 4 years / years’ experience as remote worker. Which one is correct? With or without apostrophe? Typing the construction into Google doesn’t help. The rest of the world too seems to have a problem with this. Here are some examples copied from search results when inputting ‘years’ experience’:

  • CERTIFIED SERVICE TECHNICIAN Minimum 3 years experience
  • Backed by 40 years experience

  • Forty Years’ Experience

  • Nanny with 7 years experience

  • We are looking to recruit a Solicitor with 4 years’ corporate experience

I suppose my confusion partly stems from my native language (German). For instance, you can say:

“Wir suchen einen Anwalt mit 4 Jahren Erfahrung (We are looking for a solicitor with 4 years experience)”

Here, ‘Jahren’ (years) seems to be used as plural form (4 years). On the other hand, less elegantly, you could also say:

“Wir suchen einen Anwalt mit Erfahrung von 4 Jahren (We are looking for a solicitor with 4 years of experience)”

Here, ‘von 4 Jahren’ is I think Genitive – or is it Dative? See, I’m not even sure here :) – if it were Genitive, I would be inclined to argue that the apostrophe in English (in the first sentence, i.e. the one without the ‘of’) is necessary. But I’m not sure and the more I think about it, the less sure I am :P

I’m hoping that someone can clear up the issue once and for all. So, today’s question:

  1. Which one is correct: “I have 4 years experience” OR “I have 4 years’ experience“?
  2. More importantly, why?

Written by lenina

2006 Dec 10 at 12:52

57 Responses

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  1. To me, they both are correct (with/without apostrophe). This is mostly because the phrase “years experience,” in my mind, can be short either for “years of experience” or for “years’ worth of experience,” both of which are right, and which obviously merit the absence or presence, respectively, of an apostrophe.


    2006 Dec 10 at 16:03

    • I would say that it’s always five years’ experience – the apostrophe denotes the omission, in the case of the word ‘of’ rather than the possessive.


      2011 Aug 24 at 09:15

    • It is the discussion involving the plural of the reflexive usage. For example, the cider have 1 month’s fermentation. In this instance, 1 month is singular and so for plural months such as 3 months you wouldn’t write 3 months’s (though by logical surmising it is the technical approach) but citing redundancy, you would thus modify it by dropping the latter ‘s’ to reflect months’. The apostrophe is reflexive just like in spanish – casarse or “indicative verb+se”. On a side note, regards contraction, ‘s denotes the word ‘is’ but in the above cider example, the context clearly would present a disagreement “1 month is fermentation” so it is clearly understood to be using the reflexive intent.

      In the world of HR, i feel that it varies per each purveyor’s differing opinions but i insist that if my client were to state in his/her resume’s summary statement that s/he is attentive to detail, then this is an issue that i would insist be acknowledged. Colloquially, if you want to be a snob this is an interesting fact to set you apart.


      2015 Mar 18 at 08:21

  2. Nosugrefneb has it exactly right. I, personally, always put the apostrophe in – my assumption is that it’s “year’s worth” of whatever – but it really depends on how you interpret whatever it is that you’re saying.


    2006 Dec 10 at 18:16

  3. Yes, but make sure to place the apostrophe correctly! If it’s only one year, then use “year’s worth.” If more, use “years’ worth.”


    2006 Dec 10 at 19:26

  4. Oooh! GOOD CATCH, Nosugrefneb!!!


    2006 Dec 11 at 20:01

    • how can i write my driving experience of fifteen years of my bio data


      2013 Sep 1 at 04:16

  5. I always use the apostrophe to indicate the year’s years’ (plural). I’ve found a web site citation that says:
    “Five years’ experience required.

    The experience belongs to the years – so the apostrophe goes after years.

    One year’s experience required.

    The experience belongs to the year – so the apostrophe goes after year.”

    roger barone

    2007 Jan 23 at 10:10

    • I agree! good comment!


      2015 Mar 18 at 08:24

  6. However, in an analogy, if I purchase one yard of cotton, two yards of cotton, I would not say I purchased two yards’ cotton. I feel that experience does not “belong” to years, but “of experience” is rather a simple prepositional phrase. Any thoughts?


    2007 Feb 28 at 17:56

  7. You’re right, Doug, in that you most definitely wouldn’t say “two yards’ cotton.” In my mind, this is a great example of two cases that were probably initially derived from the same usage rules but have since diverged. That is to say, each phrase can be supplemented with “worth of” or just “of,” but when either of these are removed, one remains correct while the other just sounds wrong.


    2007 Feb 28 at 18:14

    • Actually, depending on the regional usage of the language two yards’ cotton is technically correct – and is used. American english versus the british queen’s english differ both in accent and also the usage of many words. For example, learned vs learnt in the context of the past tense not learned (lurh-NED) as an adjective. Learned is the more common past tense and past participle of the verb learn. Learnt is a variant especially common outside North America. In British writing, for instance, it appears about once for every three instances of learned. Whilst (another great example of while vs whilst) in the U.S. and Canada, meanwhile, learnt appears only once for approximately every 500 instances of learned, and it’s generally considered colloquial.

      Writers throughout the English-speaking world use learned as the adjective meaning possessing broad, profound knowledge. Incidentally, this sense of learned is pronounced with two syllables: LUR-ned. As a verb and in normal past-participial use, learned is one syllable. (cite:


      2015 Mar 18 at 08:30

  8. You wouldn’t say “two yards cotton” in any case, I would hope. That is just improper, period. But two days’ time, 30 degrees’ elevation, 36 weeks’ gestation, all correct. Drop the “of” and you must add the ‘.


    2008 Aug 13 at 19:33

  9. I would refer everyone to the Eats Shoots and Leaves book – it has a section on this that could make it clearer.
    She says it’s ‘Two Weeks’ Notice’ for the film title. (The marketing dept there got it wrong..)
    I’m so happy people are still querying these things – people care less and less about good punctuation, etc.


    2008 Dec 3 at 15:23

  10. “people care less and less about good punctuation, etc.”

    – I agree Joanna.

    What about PS? So many people still right [sic] it as P.S.


    2008 Dec 18 at 10:20

  11. Hi all,

    Can’t really understand all the confusion here. Both scenarios are not correct. It does require an apostrophe as it is categorised under the ‘expressions of time’ conditions which take an apostrophe. The easiest way to demonstrate this is to ask yourself ,”is the ‘s’ on the end of the noun (years) indicating a plural or is it a possessive ‘s’. It can’t be an ‘s’ to form a plural (years) as we don’t say “he has one year experience in the field’, for example. Rather we say “one year’s experience” even though the one is singular. Therefore, the use of an ‘s’ in these situations is to indicate possession (literally, one year’s worth of experience). The only question is whether it’s one (singular possession) year’s or two (plural possession) years’ experience


    2009 Mar 4 at 06:17

  12. One is definitely wrong while the other may or may not be wrong. “Years experience” is (obviously) incorrect. “Years’ experience”, depending on whom you ask anyway, may or may not be correct. Phrased that way, you are using the genitive case and it’s debatable whether that is proper usage or not. Your best bet would be to make yourself clear and simply say “years of experience”. You will avoid any ambiguity that way. Cheers!

    Brodie K.

    2009 Mar 6 at 11:02

  13. If ‘worth of’ is left out between ‘years’ and ‘experience’, I would have thought that the phrase has been contracted (whether of one year’s or multiple years’ worth of experience), so therefore an apostrophe would be required.

    I agree Joanna, the price of good punctuation is eternal vigilance :-)


    2009 Oct 27 at 19:46

  14. Apostrophes are used in time expressions such as 3 years’ insurance (also called ‘temporal expressions’). In a temporal expression, the apostrophe is positioned before the s for single units of time and after for multiple units of time.


    Christopher J. Helbert

    2009 Nov 20 at 20:06

  15. My Oxford Spanish-English dictionary always uses “years’ experience” (seven times).


    2010 Oct 21 at 03:31

  16. It’s so good to see that other people care about issues like this as deeply as I do!

    For what it’s worth, I write a lot of press releases for work, and we always say, “XX joins the firm with 20 years’ experience in the industry”…


    2011 Mar 2 at 14:28

  17. Dear All,
    Here are just my personal opinions.
    “I have over 4 years experience” is ok. In such case, “over 4 years” plays a “noun phrase” role. “over 4 years experience” is a complement. There is the structure:
    Subject + Verb + Implement

    “I have 4 years’ experience“ has no mean, I thought. Its extended form is “I have experience of 4 years”. Our troubles are “what is ‘4 years’?” and “which 4 years?”. If “4 years” was said before the sentence, which is being discussed, and the phrase “4 years” (in the sentence) is refereed to the “4 years” (be said before), it’s ok.

    I am not a native speaker but I am studying English.

    Hope to hear from you, guys.


    2011 Apr 8 at 03:13

  18. You have four years’ experience – because, as others have said it is an expression of time and means four years of experience. So: six weeks’ holiday, tomorrow’s headlines, one day’s grace.

    Huw Sayer

    2011 Apr 8 at 08:02

  19. Hi all,
    just to comment I am delighted to read all these comments! It shows people (at least some people) still care about properly using language! I was starting to write a sales (sale’s ?) letter and this doubt about apostrophes arose.
    Not a native English speaker myself,this has proven most useful. (Spanish in this regard is more simple).
    Not at all finding this site on Google, by the way.


    2011 May 29 at 21:18

  20. sorry on previous comment I meant to say: “not at all hard…”


    2011 May 29 at 21:41

  21. Hi guys,

    Not a native English speaker either (French translator), but just to add some spice to this post (if needed!): I don’t see any of you mentioning the hyphen option, that is “4-year experience”. In this case, 4-year acts as an adjective phrase, so no “s” should be added, just like any adjective in English if I remember well.

    But the bottom line is: how would a native write it? Is the hyphen option still an option? :-)


    2011 Jun 1 at 04:52

    • That’s correct! };] This is the situation I was looking for, as I am writing and re-writing my resume, and reading job posts that are confusing the issue because some have mistakes and they are all in different formats.


      2014 Aug 1 at 16:06

  22. I agree with Brodie K. from two years ago that the most proper usage is “years of experience”.


    2011 Jul 2 at 22:07

  23. How about when used in a sentence such as “……modifications to last year’s process will include…….” Would this be correct?

    Ricky Bobby

    2011 Jul 12 at 00:16

  24. Hi Ricky, yes is correct. Modifications to the process OF last year.


    2011 Jul 29 at 07:50

  25. I find that both forms are incorrect.

    Years and year’s experience are shortened and inaccurate spoken forms of the phrase “years (worth) of experience”.

    My reasoning: There is always an amount OF something.


    2011 Nov 24 at 16:24

    • … For instance : Two gallons OF water.


      2011 Nov 24 at 16:28

      • PS :

        “years’ of experience” is therefore just as incorrect as the other two options.


        2011 Nov 24 at 16:36

      • PS :

        “years’ of experience” is therefore just as incorrect as the other two mentioned incorrect options.


        2011 Nov 24 at 16:37

      • PPS :

        Somebody has already mentioned that this is a common mistake made by german speaking people.

        In german you say “zwei Liter Wasser” (“two litres water”).

        So I can see how german speaking people could have trouble with the english phrase.

        Maybe Americans have trouble with it due to the fact that about 85 % of the current US population is of german descent..


        2011 Nov 24 at 16:52

  26. can I suggest the book Eats, shoots and leaves (yes I know there should be quotations marks, but single or double)? This wonderful book will tell you. A must for everyone, it is not there to teach correct grammar, just fill in a few holes, then read it with your children
    Happy reading –


    2011 Dec 29 at 09:16

  27. I am still confused. Please clarify me. Which one is correct? “Approx 4 year experience” or “I have over 4 years of experience” .

    Jolly Roy

    2012 Jan 6 at 23:37

  28. Jolly Roy, I feel a bit like you having read all the posts. I want to know before I upload my new website. On balance, I think I´ll go for ” I have 4 years´ experience”. If anyone (and someone probably will) remarks upon it then I´ll refer them to this forum. Very interesting discussion, especially from the clearly knowledgeable posters, thank you.


    2012 Jan 11 at 04:54

  29. from the Guardian’s style guide:

    Use apostrophes in phrases such as two days’ time, 12 years’ imprisonment and six weeks’ holiday, where the time period (two days) modifies a noun (time), but not in nine months pregnant or three weeks old, where the time period is adverbial (modifying an adjective such as pregnant or old) – if in doubt, test with a singular such as one day’s time, one month pregnant.


    2012 Jan 23 at 10:57

  30. We say “one year’s experience” and not “one year experience”. Therefore, I suggest that the “s” must denote a possessive and should be accompanied with an apostrophe.

    James Lord

    2012 Mar 9 at 10:18

  31. sir,

    i am resume sent job,my experience details,one and of years working the office its the full meaning 1 1/2 years ,how to words writing the line pls replay


    2012 Mar 27 at 03:24

  32. How serious can a webpage on language rules’ issues be that displays on top of its page “Definately Fixing Alot Of Americas Grammar 1 Word At A Thyme”? Lol

    On the other hand every comment on this page seemed pretty serious, at least until the last one on 3/27/12. I’m not a native speaker but as a former translator and as a language lover, I’m always interested in getting it right. Well, I didn’t know I was supposed to put an apostrophe between “4 years” and “experience”! It still looks funny but everyone seemed to agree. JEH’s explanation seems the best…


    2012 May 9 at 14:20

  33. Conor (4/29/2009) had the best explanation. There is no contraction; the use of a possessive apostrophe is peculiar to expressions of time, as several have noted. I do not agree with the poster who cited “30 degrees’ elevation” as correct. I wouldn’t think that falls into the “temporal expressions” category. “A 30-degree elevation” or “elevation of 30 degrees” would seem to be proper ways to express that. Thanks for these discussions… as the (mostly under-qualified) “grammar guru” in my office, I often have to look to sites like this for backup on my edits!


    2012 Jul 11 at 10:29

  34. Excellent discussion. Some people just don’t care, but obviously some do! Thank goodness. Back to the PS vs P.S., I use PS. I thought postscript was one word thus not needing periods. If anything PS would need a dot after s. as in “PS.”. is that clear? thoughts?


    2012 Aug 14 at 13:28

  35. Which one is correct? Thirty years of experience HAVE taught me or HAS taught me?


    2012 Oct 12 at 18:36

    • I’ll refrain from the obvious joke, “Thirty years must not have taught you much”, and just comment; “Have” or “has” applies to the subject, which is “Thirty years “. So it would be Thirty years of experience HAVE taught me.


      2012 Oct 22 at 13:53

      • It would have been easier for me to appreciate your sarcasm if I were not a foreigner and English is whose third language.  I asked a simple question in the hope of getting a simple answer and whether my seventy-odd years of living in three continents has or have (depending upon, of course, whether the subject here is “seventy years” or “living”) taught me anything is beside the point in my humble opinion.


        Language Rules wrote:

        a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; }

        a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; }

        /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */

        Al commented: “I’ll refrain from the obvious joke, “Thirty years must not have taught you much”, and just comment; “Have” or “has” applies to the subject, which is “Thirty years “. So it would be Thirty years of experience HAVE taught me.”


        2012 Oct 22 at 23:52

  36. At the risk of being wrong, I’d say we ought not to omit the word “of” unless very informal syntax is acceptable (assuming that is the meaning we want). The apostrophe denotes that the experience belongs to the years (which is acceptable). If you are that worried, why not just include the word “of” and be certain you are correct and formal?


    2012 Nov 13 at 15:05

  37. Not a native English speaker, but having learnt British English (also known as Queen’s or Queens’ ? English) as distinct to American English, & having been a teacher of the same for many years, in my humble opinion, I would think that in a formal context as in a Resume, etc. ‘I have over 15 years of experience in teaching’ would sound better & more correct than ‘I have over 15 years’ experience in teaching’.
    The term ’15’ years of experience ‘ in this situation, could be a substitute for ‘several’ years of experience’. (‘several years’ experience’, doesnt feel or sound correct or formal in a written format. However, it could be okay, colloquially). Its just that, the word ‘several’ which is vague and not very specific, is being quantified with the specific and exact number of years of experience. Here again, even for the purpose of explanation, (in this last sentence formation), I’ve used the same structure ‘number of years of experience’.
    Like a couple of earlier posts here have mentioned, correct usage, punctuation, etc. in English language is becoming extinct & a dying art & its indeed a delight ( especially for a lover of the language, like me) to see this kind of debate & brainstorming on the correct grammatical usage of the language.


    2012 Nov 21 at 15:50

    • PS….Sorry …typo…(2nd para) It’s just that & (3rd para) it’s indeed a delight…Not ‘its’…..Apologies!


      2012 Nov 21 at 16:05

  38. Hmmm….In my opinion (which most people do not agree with, apparently), it depends on what the phrase is that you are shortening. When I have written “years experience,” I have always meant it as a shortened form of “years OF experience,” not “years’ WORTH OF experience.” If I’m writing a complete sentence, I always include the “of,” as in, “years of experience,” but if I am using this phrase as a bullet point in a list of qualifications, I simply omit the of, similiar to how I would omit “an” before “an MBA,” like this:

    – MBA with focus in marketing
    – 5 years experience in product management

    If I were writing these phrases as complete sentences, I would say, ‘I have an MBA with a focus in marketing,” and, “I have 5 years of experience in product management.” To me, the experience does not belong to the years. “Years” is simply a unit of measure, like gallons or pounds. To me, this is similar to writing, “The recipe calls for 5 pounds of sugar,” which I would shorten, when writing a recipe, to,”5 pounds sugar,” NOT “5 pounds’ sugar.”

    However, if most of the world considers “years’ experience” to be a shortened form of “years’ WORTH OF experience,” the safest option would be to write “years’ experience.”


    2013 Jan 5 at 11:19

  39. not a native english speaker, after reading all the comments, for a moment i thought this is very basic but eventually i get even more confused. so i’ll go with the safest way: 10 years of experience


    2013 Jan 30 at 23:36

    • Hi all..very interesting discussion. Seems like most of you have your points well said. Now I really do agree that I will write it as: 10 years of experience (I agree with you Johan)


      2013 Mar 8 at 03:11

  40. wow, I feel totally punctuated!


    2013 Mar 16 at 13:01

  41. Hi… I’m not sure if anyone would even reply this comment as I can see it has been awhile. But I have also been struggling with this problem and just to add the question, how do you say it when it is for eg. 6 years imprisonment.. is it ‘6 years imprisonment’ or ‘ 6 years’ imprisonment’? hope to get a reply from someone.


    2014 Oct 2 at 12:03

  42. In business, they like shorter-forms. Though “years’ experience” can be used in business contexts, but not in general. “Year” cannot possess “experience”. However, “# years experience” doesn’t follow the common rule. Usually grammar books say that when using a noun as an adjective, it takes singular form with some exceptions. If you want to be grammatically logical, use “# years of experience”. If you put “pieces” instead of years, you would get an idea.

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