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    #1

    Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Hello, teachers,

    I often come across words like this - "a children's song." Is this a case of putting an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    I know that when you say 'a customer's point of view,' this indefinite article counts as the determiner of the word customer (part of the possessive noun,) not "point of view"
    Meanwhile, I also know, If I give it some context like "The singer released a children's song," it means that he released "a song [that was meant for children]", so, that indefinite article modifies "children's song."

    Although "a children's song" sounds right, for me, it sounds like putting an indefinite article before a possessive noun like "a Luke's absence" or "a mysterious Luke's absence."

    Could you tell me why an indefinite article can be used before children's? Thank you.

    Manabu
    Last edited by ManabuS; 09-Jan-2016 at 19:51.

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    #2

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Your reasoning makes sense to me. In your examples, the words that would normally be possessive nouns are functioning as adjectives.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 09-Jan-2016 at 22:51. Reason: Deleting unnecessary quote. We don't need to read it all again.
    I am not a teacher.

  1. Skrej's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Quote Originally Posted by ManabuS View Post
    I often come across words like this - "a children's song." Is this a case of putting an indefinite article before a possessive noun?
    Yes.
    I know that when you say 'a customer's point of view,' this indefinite article counts as the determiner of the word customer (part of the possessive noun,) not "point of view"
    No, it's referring to 'point of view', not 'customer's'.

    Although "a children's song" sounds right, for me, it sounds like putting an indefinite article before a possessive noun like "a Luke's absence" or "a mysterious Luke's absence."

    Could you tell me why an indefinite article can be used before children's? Thank you.
    Because 'children's' is being used as an adjective, not a noun. Possessive nouns function as adjectives.

    Also, you can't use an indefinite article to talk about a specific person. When you use the noun 'Luke' as a possessive noun, it is no longer indefinite. You are talking about Luke's absence, and not just any absence in general.

    Finally, when we say 'a children's song', the article is modifying 'song', not children. Remember that 'a' and 'an' are singular by definition, so it's impossible for them to refer to a plural noun, even if it's being used as a possessive noun.
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    #4

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Thank you for your helpful replies, GoesStation, Skrej.

    I was wondering if I could ask you a few more questions, Skrej.

    I read that when you say 'a friend's house,' this indefinite article refers to 'friend.' But it strikes me that this 'a' can refer to both friend and house.
    Unfortunately, I have no context because that is from a grammar book written in Japanese and is just one of examples.

    It explains that 'a' can't refer to a noun that is modified by a possessive noun. Thus, in an X's Y, 'an' counts as part of the possessive noun (X's) and can't refer to the modified noun (Y.)
    This confused me a lot but seems to be wrong now that I learned X's is functioning as an adjective like 'customer's' -- not talking about "a certain customer."

    When you say 'on a moment's notice,' on the other hand, it means 'on short notice'; in this case, it totally makes sense to me that 'a' refers to 'moment' because of the meaning of the expression and because of the modified noun being a noncount noun.

    So, if an indefinite article can indeed refer to a possessive noun like 'a moment,' it seems that even "an a friend's house" is possible by stretching it a bit, as some people own more than one.

    Does it depend on which of the possessive noun and the modified noun is the reasonable referent of the indefinite article like "Children's is plural, so 'a' refers to song" or "notice is uncountable, so 'a' refers to moment's"?
    After all, "a friend's house" is a mystery to me.

    Could you help me out? Thank you.

  2. Skrej's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Quote Originally Posted by ManabuS View Post
    I read that when you say 'a friend's house,' this indefinite article refers to 'friend.' But it strikes me that this 'a' can refer to both friend and house.
    Unfortunately, I have no context because that is from a grammar book written in Japanese and is just one of examples.
    Without seeing the exact wording of the grammar text you mention, I can't really comment on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by ManabuS View Post
    It explains that 'a' can't refer to a noun that is modified by a possessive noun. Thus, in an X's Y, 'an' counts as part of the possessive noun (X's) and can't refer to the modified noun (Y.)
    This confused me a lot but seems to be wrong now that I learned X's is functioning as an adjective like 'customer's' -- not talking about "a certain customer."

    When you say 'on a moment's notice,' on the other hand, it means 'on short notice'; in this case, it totally makes sense to me that 'a' refers to 'moment' because of the meaning of the expression and because of the modified noun being a noncount noun.

    I wouldn't consider 'notice' non-count. When I logged into the forum today, I had six notices. Again I can't refute the grammar text without seeing exactly what it says, but I can comment that what you've written from memory isn't accurate.

    Quote Originally Posted by ManabuS View Post
    So, if an indefinite article can indeed refer to a possessive noun like 'a moment,' it seems that even "an a friend's house" is possible by stretching it a bit, as some people own more than one.

    Does it depend on which of the possessive noun and the modified noun is the reasonable referent of the indefinite article like "Children's is plural, so 'a' refers to song" or "notice is uncountable, so 'a' refers to moment's"?
    After all, "a friend's house" is a mystery to me.

    No. It doesn't matter whether the possessive noun is singular or plural, because it's no longer considered a noun, it's now functionally an adjective. The only possible influence that possessive noun would have on the article would be whether you need to use 'a' or 'an', as per the normal initial vowel sound rules. As mentioned above, 'notice' isn't non-count.

    In short, articles refer to nouns, not adjectives. Possessive nouns function as adjectives, so they no longer influence the article since articles can't modify adjectives.
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    #6

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Thank you so much for your helpful answer. I really appreciate it

    Can I conclude that a/an always refers to the modified noun, not the Saxon genitive as long as it is functioning as an adjective and that, when a possessive noun is definite like Luke's, a/an can't be used in the first place?

    I don't think I understand quite yet. "A friend's house" still makes me wonder.
    Did you mean that what I wrote about the explanation in that textbook isn't accurate because that reasoning isn't plausible or that my memory isn't accurate?
    Actually, I just translated it into English. But I leave this topic alone since I'm not really interested in whether or not the textbook is correct.


    I'd like to know what 'a' refers to in 'a friend's house.' If it is used in a context:
    "Sleepover: a night spent by children or young people at a friend's house."
    Does 'a' refer to 'house' as 'friend's' is an adjective?
    I've wondered if "a friend's" is probable or not; If I'm friends with all the members of the family, I think I should say "friends' + house" and if just one of them is friends with me I think I can say 'a friend's + house.' So, I thought this weird phrase --
    "an + a friend's + house"-- could theoretically be when 'house' has to be modified by an indefinite article as well as 'friend's' has to be.
    Or does 'a friend's house' mean 'a house [in which a friend (friends(?)) lives]'. If so, can I also say 'a friends' house'?

    And let me ask you just one more question.
    'Notice' is defined as both a count noun and a non-count noun in Merriam-Webster.
    Is it usually considered a count noun, even in these expressions: 'on short notice,' and 'a moment's notice'?
    I understand that when it is used as a count noun it means a letter and the like. So, for me, it is still probable for "a moment's + notice" to be the case because I don't think that "moment's notice" is something like a memorandum. Is this understanding correct?

    Thank you very much.


    Last edited by ManabuS; 12-Jan-2016 at 14:19.

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    #7

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Leaving the complex analysis aside, let's recast two phrases, replacing possessive nouns with "of x":

    a friend's house = the house of a friend.
    Luke's house = the house of Luke.

    There's no indefinite article before the proper noun. Does that help?
    I am not a teacher.

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    #8

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Thank you for your succinct explanation, GoesStation.
    I'm afraid it didn't help much if at all.
    Now I'm more confused because I do understand that X's is more of an adjective than a noun with the help of your comments but I don't understand why the indefinite article is going with 'friend' in your paraphrase, after all.
    If I've understood your answers correctly, 'a' refers to a noun, not an adjective (X's.) Hence my questions in my post #6.
    Any help in that regard will be really appreciated. Thank you.

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    #9

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    What about "one friend's house"? Does it work in the same way as "a friend's house"?

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    #10

    Re: Can I put an indefinite article before a possessive noun?

    Yes.

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