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    • Join Date: Oct 2009
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    #1

    Possessive plurals

    Hi

    I'm having trouble explaining why some possessive forms take a singular noun. For example:

    "My parents' retirement" or "My parents' retirements"
    "Many workers are preparing for their retirement(s?)"
    "People's weight is increasing" or "People's weights are increasing"

    And this particular one:

    "Third world countries' dependence(dependencies?) on First world countries is(are) increasing"

    Thanks for any assistance

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    #2

    Re: Possessive plurals

    Quote Originally Posted by balotz View Post
    Hi

    I'm having trouble explaining why some possessive forms take a singular noun. For example:

    "My parents' retirement" or "My parents' retirements"
    "Many workers are preparing for their retirement(s?)"
    "People's weight is increasing" or "People's weights are increasing"

    And this particular one:

    "Third world countries' dependence(dependencies?) on First world countries is(are) increasing"

    Thanks for any assistance
    I hope these links help...

    Possessive Forms

    http://www.grammarmudge.cityslide.co...26513/8914.htm

    Possessive Nouns

    Possessive Nouns

    Possessive of singular noun that ends in S


    • Join Date: Oct 2009
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    #3

    Red face Re: Possessive plurals

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, however these links contain information about the use of the apostrophe, which isn't exactly what I was asking about.

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    #4

    Re: Possessive plurals

    Quote Originally Posted by balotz View Post
    Thanks for taking the time to reply, however these links contain information about the use of the apostrophe, which isn't exactly what I was asking about.
    This is, strictly speaking, an issue not of grammar but of idiom, and consequently much more difficult to explain or account for in any systematic way! Generally speaking, the possessed noun is treated as plural when it is a physical attribute/possession, e.g.

    The children all raised their hands.

    (even though each - presumably! - raises only one hand)

    They put down their bags and went to their seats.

    (even though each has only one seat and probably only one bag )

    but as singular when abstract, hence 'weight' and 'retirement' in the examples you cite.

    Many exceptions, however, especially to the latter, can be found. For instance, in

    The politicians hoped to realize their dreams and ambitions.

    even though both 'dream' and 'ambition' are abstract nouns and each politician may well have only one of each, the plural is still the only natural choice here. In this case, one can only point out that, on purely linguistic grounds, nouns such as 'weight' and 'retirement' are much less likely to be treated as countable than either 'dream' or 'ambition' (regardless of the technical possibility of doing so). Additionally, there is of course the sense point that one person, considered at any given moment in time, can have many dreams or ambitions but only one weight or time of retirement!

    Sadly for your students, only sheer experience of English is likely ever to enable a complete mastery of this point!
    Last edited by philo2009; 17-Oct-2009 at 04:35.


    • Join Date: Oct 2009
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    #5

    Re: Possessive plurals

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    Sadly for your students, only sheer experience of English is likely ever to enable a complete mastery of this point!
    Thanks for your detailed answer, it's much appreciated. I had been hoping there was some foolproof rule to apply here; I dread telling the students 'memorize these forms'!

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