Possessive - using 's with inanimate nouns.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Exile, Sep 13, 2006.

  1. Exile New Member

    French (Switzerland)
    Hi! :)

    I would like to know when it is not possible to use the "'s" you add to the noun describing the owner.

    It is written in my grammar book that "the possessive case may also be used with animals, countries (and places) and expressions of time". But in the examples that follow, there are none of places that are common nouns. The two examples that involve places are : "Norway's oil production" and "California's climate". And what about inanimate things? For instance, can you say "the door's handle", or do you have to say "the handle of the door"?

    Could someone please give me precise details about that? Thanks a lot!
     
  2. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    No, say "the door handle"

    My grammar says the same as yours, but I've learned from native speakers that "a 2 hour's trip" was not half as good as "a two-hour trip".

    Wait for a native, though...
     
  3. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    Pieanne is absolutely correct. :thumbsup:
     
  4. dnldnl Senior Member

    Russian, Ukrainian
    With inanimate objects you do not use possessive s. You can either use the form pieanne pointed out or the preposition of.

    The door handle, the handle of the door; the computer screen, the screen of the computer... etc., all of these expressions would work fine.

    It's incorrect to say "a 2 hour's trip" since the trip cannot belong to 2 hours. I beleive when the book refers to time, it means things like yesterday's (i. e. yersterday's meeting), today's (i.e. today's headlines), etc.
     
  5. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    As far as inanimate objects are concerned you can used 's with ships and boats, e.g.: the ship's rudder.

    Some use 's as well with planes, traines and the rest of vehicles.

    In expressions on money when combined with worth, e.g.:
    my two cents' worth
    a dollar's worht of tamps

    I can also remember the expressions with sake:
    for God's sake
    for heaven's sake

    You also use 's with some nouns as for instance:
    a/the dentist's/chemist's/doctor's/etc.
    it means usually a place where they deal with the clients (a shop, suregey, office, etc)
     
  6. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    My book gives such examples too, I think it's correct as the trip lasts for two hours and thus this is a certain period of time that encompasses the trip so in a way the trip belongs to two hours (it is similar to today's newspeaper or a week's holiday).

    Anyway, the usage in everyday language may be indeed different.
     
  7. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    Yes, it's "short" for
    the doctor's office (is it an office?)
    the butcher's shop
    my cousins' house.

    It's usually preceded with either "at" (indicating situation) or "to" (indicationg direction)
     
  8. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    <It's incorrect to say "a 2 hour's trip" since the trip cannot belong to 2 hours. I beleive when the book refers to time, it means things like yesterday's (i. e. yersterday's meeting), today's (i.e. today's headlines), etc.>

    Of course the trip cannot belong to the 2 hours :) But it was once stated as correct in the grammars.
     
  9. MrBobby Member

    US, Boston
    English, US
    I would say that both are perfectly acceptable. When you use "the door's handle" it's used to emphasize that the relation between the door and the handle or after you have introduced the door by itself previously. For example:

    The door was on the left side of the room. The door's handle was red. (better yet: It's handle was red)
     
  10. dnldnl Senior Member

    Russian, Ukrainian
    I bet Exile will be even more confused after reading all these different replies :). It now seems to me that technically possessive s could be used with practically every noun, although in terms of spoken speech, there are cases where it's better to use the alternative forms.
     
  11. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    For the sake of clarification:
    Should it read it's handle... or its handle...?

    I'd opt for its but I'd like to get some other opinions :)
     
  12. mplsray Senior Member


    When speaking of the type of handle used for a door, you would say the door handle. But the door's handle could be used when speaking of a particular door--that is, when the with the emphasis on the door itself--as in, Not only did it need to be stripped and repainted, but the door's handle was rusty.

    It's not appropriate to refer to the door as an "owner" of the handle, as you imply in your message. The term possessive case is thus misleading: Using the term genitive case instead helps one to avoid the myth that the marker 's cannot be used with inanimate objects. As Kenneth G. Wilson points out, in his Columbia Guide to Standard American English under the article Descriptive Genitive, "In fact, the genitive case--in English as in Latin before it--has always had many more purposes than simply indicating possession, and descriptive (and other nonpossessive) genitives are and long have been Standard English." Wilson gives as examples of the descriptive genitive the mountain's top and a day's pay.
     
  13. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    It is "its handle".
     
  14. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    I'm all with you here, mplsray... Isn't it also called the Saxon genitive?

    Many languages have their genitive case: German, Greek, Roman...
     
  15. konungursvia Banned

    Toronto
    Canada (English)
    You can certainly use the possessive with inanimate objects, but it implies some degree of personification in certain contexts. As for "it's handle was red", this is is an error, and should read "its", because the contraction "it's" represents "it is". In the case of door handle, the reason we can use this and so often do is the Teutonic tendency to make compound nouns, e.g. book-case, chimney-sweep, schornsteinfeger.
     
  16. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    Belgium/French
    When you say "Teutonic", is it the same as "Germanic"? (Dutch, German & English)
     
  17. konungursvia Banned

    Toronto
    Canada (English)
    Yes, I meant it in that way essentially, though Germanic is the group the Romans perceived as Teutonic, and Teutonic is the group we Norsemen think of as Teutonic. So I include Icelandic and the Scandinavian languages.
     
  18. Exile New Member

    French (Switzerland)
    Very interesting. Thanks a lot everyone! For the moment I'll think about it.:) I might come back should I have another question to ask.
     
  19. MrBobby Member

    US, Boston
    English, US
    You're 100% right. :)
     
  20. Mike

    Mike Senior Member

    Krakow, Polska
    Australia, English
    It's as previously noted is the contraction for it is. Its however, is the possessive adjective (my, your, his, her, its, our, your their).

    And really, it's fine to use the possessive apostrophe with an inanimate object. Not so common, but totally correct, grammatically. The hinge of the door but the door's hinge.

    Cheers

    Mike
     
  21. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Better yet.... "its handle was red". "It's handle" would be "it is handle"
     

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