Possessive - Depicting husbands’ and wives’ perception of marital quality ...


New Member
Brazil, Portuguese
Dear friends,

This is my first visit to this language forum. Allow me to quickly introduce myself. I’m Gisele, from São Paulo, Brazil. Even though I lived abroad for many years and I have been involved with teaching English at all levels for a considerable period of time, I often have all kinds of doubts, some of which I believe spring from my not being a native speaker.

I came upon the wordreference.com site earlier today while carrying out a Google search related to the current grammar doubt I have. Hopefully someone out there can shed some light on the issue! (I do apologize if my doubt has already been discussed in other threads. I did conduct a few searches on the site to check whether the specific grammar point might already have been dealt with, but I couldn’t find quite what I was looking for. However, I certainly wouldn’t mind being told to refer to other threads, if they are pertinent to the discussion. Short look-at-this-and-that-thread kinds of reply are most welcome!)

After this rather long preamble (I promise I will go straight to the point in future communications), let me tell you what my doubt is all about. I was reviewing a student’s writing in the morning when I read a sentence whose initial part struck me as being grammatically inaccurate. I was not sure about the soundness of my judgment, though.

The sentence starts like this:

Depicting husbands’ and wives’ perception of marital quality as time goes by, graph 2.3 shows that…

My immediate gut feeling was that the text is ill-constructed regarding article usage. The possessive phrase “husbands’ and wives’ " should have been preceded by the definite article “the” . My first “reason” was not very rational at all - I just thought, well, the sentence just sounds better with the article.

Trying to be more analytical, I then reasoned, well, the noun “perception” is being modified by an of-phrase, which makes the noun more specific, which generally means the article is needed.

My next thought was that perhaps if the noun “perception” were used in the plural, there might not be any need for the definite article.

I kept ruminating about the sentence, while trying to tap into what I have learned so far in my life about English grammar, and my final “conclusion” remained unaltered - either the noun “perception” has to be used in the plural, in which case the use of the definite article may be optional (??) , or the noun “perception” could be left in the singular, but then the use of the definite article “the” is mandatory, according to prescriptive grammar -“the husbands’ and wives” perception of … ”.

I’m aware that especially for non-natives like me, the terrain of article usage can be notoriously dangerous, with traps everywhere, and even innocent-looking possessive nouns and nouns followed by of-phrases can be very tricky!

Despite the tons of students’ assignments I still have to look at, this stubborn definite article doubt keeps rearing its ugly head. I’m still struggling with the sentence and trying to come up with equivalent constructions and variations, but I confess I haven’t made much progress. Indeed, at the end of it all, I’m rather confused and exhausted!

Any comments would be much appreciated!



São Paulo, SP
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Depicting the husbands' and wives' perception ... refers to an identified sub-set of all the husbands and wives in the world.

    Depicting husbands' and wives' perception ... is about husbands and wives in general.

    My concern with the sentence is that its syntax seems unnecessarily complex, and therefore difficult to read. Why not 'Graph 2.3 illustrates husbands' and wives' perception of marital quality as time goes by. It shows that...'?


    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Welcome to the forum, Loregalore. My immediate gut reaction is that "perception" should be pluralized. Since we are talking about an undetermined number of husbands and wives, we have to assume that they all have, at least some, different perceptions. As well, the sentence is worded to include the perceptions of both genders (which, as we all know, will definitely result in different perceptions!).:)

    I'm voting for pluralizing "perception" and leaving the sentence as is.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello Loregalore - and another welcome.

    I'd want perceptions to be plural too. Surely it is more than one perception that is depicted? The perceptions are those of husbands and wives - both plural. So "husbands' and wives' perceptions" sounds right to me.

    Oh, yes, the article.
    If there is a specific subject group that has been discussed before this, "the husbands' ..." would be OK.
    Otherwise, no the, for me.


    New Member
    Brazil, Portuguese
    Dear se16teddy, panjandrum and Dimcl,

    Thank you all very much for your replies. Things still don’t seem very clear to me. I need to think some more and put my ideas together. I will be back another time




    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    Sorry to add to the melee, but I'd want

    Depicting husbands’ and wives’ perceptions of marital quality over time, graph 2.3 shows that…

    As other foreros have mentioned it's an unhandy phrase: at the very least it could be better expressed.

    Orange Blossom

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. English
    I agree, perception should be perceptions because the sentence is discussing more than one person's perception.

    The sentence doesn't seem awkward to me. It's typical graduate student writing. In fact, it's clearer than many graduate student papers I've had to read. Inserting the phrase, over time, might be useful, but perhaps that issue is taken care of in the rest of the sentence.

    Orange Blossom