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  1. BobK's Avatar
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    #1

    Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Could other teachers have a look at this. In short, I'm interested in the syntactical status of the s in (some instances of) summers and winters; I say some because it's obviously possessive in some cases: winter's rains, summer's edition.... I've had a quick look in Swan, but found nothing that seemed to fit the bill.

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    Last edited by BobK; 16-Sep-2016 at 14:12. Reason: Added last sentence
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    #2

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Yes, it's possessive:

    a winter's tale
    a winter's day

    Which cases are you saying are not possessive?

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    #3

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    Could other teachers have a look at this. In short, I'm interested in the syntactical status of the s in (some instances of) summers and winters; I say some because it's obviously possessive in some cases: winter's rains, summer's edition.... I've had a quick look in Swan, but found nothing that seemed to fit the bill.

    b
    The 's is a genitive marker. Your examples are called "attributive genitives", or more specifically "descriptive genitives". Descriptive genitives are something of an unproductive category, with items like a summer's day and a ship's doctor being fine, but not a spring's day or a school's doctor. Who knows why.

    Syntactically, these genitives are modifiers and hence must be distinguished from determiners like, say, teacher's in the teacher's car.

  2. BobK's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    I think attributive genitive is the term I was looking for. If you run this BNC search, and then drill down to the actual text, you'll see that the corpus text doesn't have an apostrophe (and this is not the same as a Google search, which just ignores punctuation). In some cases, as I said in the OP, possession is clear - as in "summer's edition"; but in expressions like "summers day" the sense of possession is weaker - so weak that many users omit the apostrophe.

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  3. Piscean's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    In some cases, as I said in the OP, possession is clear - as in "summer's edition"
    The idea of possession is not clear to me at all in such expressions. Nor is it in winter's rains.

    As I said in a recent post (which I now can't find), the idea of possession is appropriate only in the fourth of these:

    Shakespeare's plays
    Shakespeare's death
    Shakespeare's wife
    Shakespeare's house.

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    #6

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    I think attributive genitive is the term I was looking for. If you run this BNC search, and then drill down to the actual text, you'll see that the corpus text doesn't have an apostrophe (and this is not the same as a Google search, which just ignores punctuation). In some cases, as I said in the OP, possession is clear - as in "summer's edition"; but in expressions like "summers day" the sense of possession is weaker - so weak that many users omit the apostrophe.

    b
    A great many genitives have nothing to with "possession". For example, a summer's day means a 'day typical of those occurring in summer', not a day possessed by a summer. And the same with fisherman's cottages, which doesn't mean cottages owned (or possessed) by fisherman, but cottages typical of those lived in by a fisherman. Similarly, an old people's home means a home typical of those lived in by old people, not a home that is owned by old people.

    I can't see any semantic difference in terms of possession, or rather the lack of it, between summer's edition and summer's day. Neither of them permit a paraphrase with possess in the way that her car can be paraphrased as the car she possesses. I can't account for those occurrences where the genitive ' has been omitted - they appear to be simple errors.
    Last edited by PaulMatthews; 18-Sep-2016 at 11:51.

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    #7

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    As I said in a recent post (which I now can't find), the idea of possession is appropriate only in the fourth of these:

    Shakespeare's plays
    Shakespeare's death
    Shakespeare's wife
    Shakespeare's house.
    I think in Shakespeare's day, number 3 was a possessive after all.

  4. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Even in this day and age, some level of possession is indicated with certain family members. We say "my/your/his wife/husband/children" and the only way I could define them would be "the woman/man/child belonging to me/you/him".
    However, despite that, I can't explain why "my aunt/uncle/grandfather/mother/sister" doesn't suggest possession to me! Perhaps it's because your aunts, uncles, grandparents etc are your family purely due to bloodline. However, you choose your wife/husband and choose to have a child. Perhaps it is that element of choice that makes me think of possession.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #9

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Perhaps because in those cases, there is a sense of attachment, a relationship; even a suggestion of lasting a long time/permanence. But no ownership (possession). Same as Piscean's example, "Shakespeare's death".

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    #10

    Re: Summers, winters etc - syntax?

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Even in this day and age, some level of possession is indicated with certain family members. We say "my/your/his wife/husband/children" and the only way I could define them would be "the woman/man/child belonging to me/you/him".
    I concede that some parents might consider that their children belong to them, are their possessions. I concede, too, that in some cultures, people (especially males) might consider that their spouses are their possessions

    However, in terms of English grammar and culture, the relationship between most family members is no more one of possession than are the relationships mentioned by Paul Matthews. Many people would understand your definitions, but they are not correct. The reason most of us understand, and even use, such definitions, I think, is that genitive has been associated in people's minds with possessive for many centuries. There may be languages in which genitive forms denote only possession, but I don't know of any Indo-European language in which this is the case.

    The genitive/possessive idea hasn't served us too badly, but, like the gerund/participle distinction, it does not stand up to rigid analysis.

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