newsagent's [plural form?]

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glaslexi

Member
English - UK
This is a question specifically for speakers of BE, as I know the possessive apostrophe in words such as chemist's, butcher's etc may be used differently in AE. Plus I'm not sure that newsagent's actually exist in AE, do they? Anyhoo...my question is, what is the plural?

There are 5 newsagents' on the High Street.

Or do you have to say something like:

There are 5 newsagents' shops on the High Street.

(It strikes me that 'There are 5 newsagents on the High Street' could refer to the proprietors, walking down the street, and is therefore potentially confusing).

Hmmm.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The basis of this is the person, the chemist or newsagent. Each shop is assumed to have one proprietor, so if there are five chemists on the high street, there are five chemist's/chemists' shops. The shop can also be referred to as the plain chemist: there's a chemist round the corner; so we can simply pluralize it as chemists. (After all, how often do you see your local chemist or newsagent outside in the street?)

    I suppose you could still write that there were five chemists' on the high street, since now shops rather than shop is being elliptically omitted, but I would avoid that in favour of the simpler one without ellipsis. In practice we happily wear the faint ambiguity in: I got it from the chemist. (The chemist the person is relatively unlikely to be who we got it from.)
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    This is a question specifically for speakers of BE, as I know the possessive apostrophe in words such as chemist's, butcher's etc may be used differently in AE. Plus I'm not sure that newsagent's:cross: actually exist in AE, do they?
    First of all, it's newsagents, plural, not the possessive: newsagent's in the most obvious context.

    Yes, we do have newsagents, except that we call them news stands, news dealers or something else. See the WRD entry for newsagent

    As far as I know, we in the U.S. follow the same rules for possessive apostrophes, but as always, context is everything.

    For example:

    The film The Butcher's Wife refers to one butcher and one wife, not multiple butchers.

    If you say "I've been to the butcher's," the additional word "shop." is understood, although it is omitted.
     

    frostypotter

    Member
    NYC
    English
    As an AE native speaker, I would opt for the second choice. The apostrophe is used for possessives, which means the subject has to possess something first! Your first sentence, although the "shops" is implied, doesn't have anything that is possessed (in the ownership sense of the word not the demonic sense), which means it doesn't need an apostrophe.

    Your sentences are also a bit eclectic in their descriptions of the shops. Usually you would simply say, "There are five news shops on High Street," or something to that effect. Similarly, "There are five butchers on High Street," implies the shops not the people so I don't think it is as ambiguous as you imagined. If the verb you're using is dedicated to humans, then the ambiguity ceases to exist--consider this sentence: "There are five butchers playing with cats on High Street." The sentence clearly means that "butchers" is referring to people not stores. To avoid all ambiguity, I would suggest including the word "shops" in your original sentence. That way you can use the apostrophe in a grammatically correct fashion without having any implied words in the sentence.
     

    glaslexi

    Member
    English - UK
    Unfortunately, entangledbank, 'faint ambiguity' will not wash in a dictionary entry, which is what I'm working on. Most of them seem to worm their way out of it by either not providing plural inflections, or by conflating the entry with 'newsagent' and simply giving 'newsagents' as the plural. I do not have this luxury.

    sdgraham - sorry for the howler in my original post. What I meant was that you do not use the words 'a newsagent's' to describe the sort of shop we have in the UK.

    'If you say "I've been to the butcher's," the additional word "shop." is understood, although it is omitted'.

    What would you say if you have been to several of these shops, in search of the perfect steak, for example.
     

    glaslexi

    Member
    English - UK
    Thanks frostypotter. I think the problem is that a BE speaker would never actually say '5 news shops', they would always say '5 newsagents' - my question is really how this should be written down.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    What would you say if you have been to several of these shops, in search of the perfect steak, for example.
    Here in the U.S., we tend to use tradespeople in the singular (but not always), so I would say:

    I went to the butcher to find a steak.
    I went to 10 butcher shops before I found the right steak.

    If I said "I asked five butchers for a USDA prime steak," there's no way of knowing whether they were all in the same shop or individuals.

    The traditional butcher, however, is becoming something of a rarity in the U.S. as supermarkets take over. In this case, we talk about the meat counter, but normally call the workers there "butchers."

    Interesting subject.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    There doesn't need to exist a satisfactory answer: there's no way of putting Sainsbury's in the genitive and writing about Sainsbury's profits with a clear genitive.

    To rephrase my argument a little. In the singular we say there's a newsagent[s] on the corner, pronouncing the [s]. Or at least we can. Therefore this has to be genitive [s], not plural, and there's only one way of writing it: a newsagent's. In the plural however, we say the word the same - there are two newsagent[s] on the corner - but now we have three possible ways of writing this [s]. Since there is an alternative singular form newsagent, we definitely know that its plural newsagents is acceptable. Both the other two forms are also arguable, since we can be talking about either newsagent's shops or newsagents' shops, equally correctly, and eliding the head noun. In the face of this, my advice is to choose the simplest. I don't know whether it's reasonable to maintain that there are two homophonous plurals, one of newsagent and one of newsagent's.
     

    glaslexi

    Member
    English - UK
    It's a veritable can of worms. And don't get me started on the whole Sainsbury's malarkey. Most people I know go to Marks and Spencer's not Marks and Spencer (actually, here in Glasgow, they generally go to Markie's, or M&S, but not M&S's), and Tesco's, not Tesco.

    All of which gets me not much further with my definition. I think I shall find an inventive way of wriggling around the problem, as my fellow lexicographers have done.
     
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