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    • Join Date: Jan 2009
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    #1

    Strange possessives

    Nice to be back,

    I have some questions about possessives.

    (i) ..., it looked like a woman's breasts...
    (ii) ... continued with a day's work...
    (iii) ...taking a morning's ride...
    (iv) ... isn't a dollar's worth...

    In my eyes, the first sentence is incorrect, but I see it too often to be sure in serious fiction books (a lassie's legs, a horse's hoofs - this one from Jane Eyre with the original spelling). Why an indefinite article here paired with the noun in plural? What's the explanation behind this?

    I was wondering if the remaining three are exceptions to the rule stating that an article in a possessive phrase relates to the noun (the possessor)?

    However, point (iii) can be rewritten to a ride in the morning or a morning ride where the article is related to ride rather than morning. So wha't up with the article here?

    Point (iv) example is clearly an idiom, because the article cannot refer to an adjective?

    Is there a formal term for these possessives? Like "quasi possessives"? Are they all idioms?

    Thank you so much

  1. engee30's Avatar
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    #2

    Cool Re: Strange possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by yarco View Post
    Nice to be back,

    I have some questions about possessives.

    (i) ..., it looked like a woman's breasts...
    (ii) ... continued with a day's work...
    (iii) ...taking a morning's ride...
    (iv) ... isn't a dollar's worth...

    In my eyes, the first sentence is incorrect, but I see it too often to be sure in serious fiction books (a lassie's legs, a horse's hoofs - this one from Jane Eyre with the original spelling). Why an indefinite article here paired with the noun in plural? What's the explanation behind this?

    I was wondering if the remaining three are exceptions to the rule stating that an article in a possessive phrase relates to the noun (the possessor)?

    However, point (iii) can be rewritten to a ride in the morning or a morning ride where the article is related to ride rather than morning. So wha't up with the article here?

    Point (iv) example is clearly an idiom, because the article cannot refer to an adjective?

    Is there a formal term for these possessives? Like "quasi possessives"? Are they all idioms?

    Thank you so much
    The article a or an is the fixed phrase component - it doesn't refer to the noun being modified, but it refers to and is part of the noun modyfing that particular noun:

    ..., it looked like a woman's breasts...
    ... continued with a day's work...
    ...taking a morning's ride...
    ... isn't a dollar's worth...


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    #3

    Re: Strange possessives

    I figured as much, but shouldn't it be:

    woman's breasts
    eagle's talons
    doctor's prescription

    I saw them in the same books a few pages further!!!

  2. engee30's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Strange possessives

    You should know that there is a difference between the real possession (that woman's breasts, the breats of that woman) and the relation possession referring to the type of something (a woman's breasts, the type of breasts).

  3. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Strange possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    You should know that there is a difference between the real possession (that woman's breasts, the breats of that woman) and the relation possession referring to the type of something (a woman's breasts, the type of breasts).
    That is why the overuse of the possessive apostrophe is so confusing, if we are saying 'That woman's breasts.' fine, no problem, but 'A womans breasts', speaking in general, should not have a possessive apostrophe! This makes me furious!


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    #6

    Re: Strange possessives

    NOW I UNDERSTAND!!!

    Maybe for native speakers it's obvious, but there is no such mention in English books, where possessives are considered one-page topic. THANKS


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    #7

    Re: Strange possessives

    Some more please:

    the other manís visible discomfort
    an eager young manís voice
    the said Samís calves

    Please clarify to which nouns the articles in the above noun phrases relate to. Especially the third example is a bit confusing.

    thank you

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    #8

    Re: Strange possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    That is why the overuse of the possessive apostrophe is so confusing, if we are saying 'That woman's breasts.' fine, no problem, but 'A womans breasts', speaking in general, should not have a possessive apostrophe! This makes me furious!
    !!! First time I hear of such a distinction, of a nominal possessive without the apostrophe, in modern English. If Bhaisahab is serious, it is a British distinction, and I venture to say its use, or reuse, is recent.

  4. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: Strange possessives

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    !!! First time I hear of such a distinction, of a nominal possessive without the apostrophe, in modern English. If Bhaisahab is serious, it is a British distinction, and I venture to say its use, or reuse, is recent.
    I am very serious, it is highly contested, but not without precedent, possessive apostrophes are overused in modern English and totally without logic.

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    #10

    Re: Strange possessives

    ^ Thank you, Bhaisahab. You learn something every day.

    In NAmE, American or Canadian, the apostrophe is sometimes omitted thus in plurals (Ladies Home Journal), but never in the singular!

    One thing about contemporary English English that always strikes me is how sparsely it is punctuated, in general. I imagine the New World English seems rather archaically over-stopped to you.

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