PDA

View Full Version : Grammar Q, possessive after prepositional phrase


daniel801
07-17-2003, 12:59 PM
Grammar question:

...a table showing each category of debt's maturity date.

...a table showing each category's of debt maturity date.

Which is correct? (I realize the second one sounds terrible.)

Exapno Mapcase
07-17-2003, 01:03 PM
Congratulations. If you can tell that the second is wrong because it sounds so wrong, you are well on your way to being a writer.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
07-17-2003, 01:09 PM
Well, the grammar blue-noses will tell you that, except in extraordinary circumstances, only people should show ownership with a 's possessive construction, in which case the phrase would be "a table showing the maturity date of each category of debt."

Actually, in this case, I would side with the blue-noses.

Kaitlyn
07-17-2003, 06:14 PM
The first is correct. "category of debt" is a noun phrase. The possessive 's goes on the end of the noun phrase, not on the noun itself unless the noun terminates the phrase.

Exapno Mapcase
07-17-2003, 06:23 PM
Originally posted by Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
Well, the grammar blue-noses will tell you that, except in extraordinary circumstances, only people should show ownership with a 's possessive construction, in which case the phrase would be "a table showing the maturity date of each category of debt."

Actually, in this case, I would side with the blue-noses.

Excuse me? There is no such rule as stated, and there cannot possibly be such a rule if you are to write coherent English.

The computer's monitor.

The dog's hind legs.

The continent's shorelines.

The SDMB's contents.

You can't possibly mean what you said.

dantheman
07-17-2003, 06:24 PM
Originally posted by daniel801
Grammar question:

...a table showing each category of debt's maturity date.

...a table showing each category's of debt maturity date.

Which is correct? (I realize the second one sounds terrible.)
I'd rewrite it, daniel. They both sound awkward (and the second one's wrong and awkward).

... a table showing the maturity date of each category of debt.

Isn't that better? Still has the same meaning, right? Only now you don't have to mess with that ugly possession construction.

Scarlett67
07-17-2003, 09:03 PM
Originally posted by Number Six
The first is correct. "category of debt" is a noun phrase. The possessive 's goes on the end of the noun phrase, not on the noun itself unless the noun terminates the phrase.

No, sorry. It's awkward and prone to confusion and misreading. This copyeditor always rewrites this type of construction as suggested by others.

raygirvan
07-18-2003, 06:42 AM
Exapno Mapcase

Agreed, for general use; there is no such rule. However, I've run into some house styles that advise against it for formal/technical use. For instance, one science magazine I wrote for preferred (say) "the temperature of the metal" to "the metal's temperature".

As to the OP, both options look clumsy to me, and I go with dantheman - or even "a table showing the maturity date of each debt category".

dantheman
07-18-2003, 06:44 AM
As for not putting an apos-s on nonhuman entities - I honestly don't know if it's a rule or not. But it's usually awkward to recast the sentence to avoid it, so in technical papers I let it be.

pulykamell
07-18-2003, 08:06 AM
Agreed Exapno. There is no such rule in English, but, hey, if a style manual prefers the wordy "the temperature of the metal" to the succinct "the metal's temperature," well, so be it, although I truly find that stupid. I suppose such a stylebook would also be against using "whose" as the possessive case of "which," since "whose" obviously can only apply to living entities (not true.)

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
07-18-2003, 08:09 AM
Originally posted by Exapno Mapcase
Excuse me? There is no such rule as stated, and there cannot possibly be such a rule if you are to write coherent English.

"Modern American Usage" by Wilson Follett

The essay is too long to post, but it gives examples of exceptions. The one cited clearly does not fit.

Hari Seldon
07-18-2003, 08:19 AM
There can be no such rule that only people can possess. The 's goes back to the genitive case of all Germanic languages and there certainly was never such a rule. I guess you can make one up, but it is not part of anyone's grammar of English.

I agree completely with number six that the 's is to be put on noun phrases, not nouns, but the original sentence (the first one), while correct grammatically still sounds awkward, which is a different question.

One absolutely standard usage for 's is to mark either the subject or object of a verbal noun. For example, "the city's destruction" which can be followed either by "of the graffiti", which marks it as the subject or "by the enemay" making it the object.

Kaitlyn
07-18-2003, 10:12 AM
Originally posted by Scarlett67
No, sorry. It's awkward and prone to confusion and misreading. This copyeditor always rewrites this type of construction as suggested by others.

The op asked a grammar question. The grammar and mechanics of the first sample are correct as written.

Exapno Mapcase
07-18-2003, 01:06 PM
Exactly, Number Six. The OP asked a grammar question to which there was one right answer. Style is a completely different and far more debatable issue. Style guides can stipulate whatever they want and you just have to gnash your teeth and go along with it. One of my book publishers mandated that my manuscript had to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style - and then gave me a two-page list of exceptions. More than teeth got gnashed over that one.

Usage guides by definition are prescriptivist rather than descriptivist. They are rarely if ever updated as language changes and are notorious for the crochets and idiosyncrasies of their authors. They are excellent when new for people who are not experienced writers, but you quote the older ones at your peril. I find them just a tad more useful than the grammar checker in Word, which by my lights is wrong more often than right.

To be honest, Follett is not one of the usage manuals on my shelf. Just for fun, I turned to some of the ones I do have.

The Chicago Manual of Style has no mention of any such rule and gives any number of examples that contradict it:
the skull and crossbones' symbolic meaning

an hour's delay

the puppies' tails

for appearance' sake (whose lack of an "s" ending they note as an exception)

Neither Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage nor Partridge's Usage and Abusage

Aha. Theodore Bernstein's The Careful Writer has this to say:
The distinction that used to be made, and still is to some extent, is that the prepositional genitive is associated with things, whereas the "s" genitive is associated with animate beings. At no time, however, was this distinction an ironclad rule.

And these days we do not grit our teeth at the nation's well-being, yesterday's newspaper, the sun's warmth, the ship's propeller, a year's study, a day's journey, or state's rights, although we may well grit them at the table's top or the century's turn.

Bernstein was writing this as far back as 1965 and he was an old fogy even then. It is safe to say that the rule that never was certainly is no longer. I assure you that you can write "the century's turn" in the most formal paper and no one will blink an eye.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.