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Lesson 3: Grammar - The Genitive Form


MoMa_NY_USA_1.jpg Source: en.wikipedia.org

MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York http://www.moma.org/

In this lesson you will review the rules of using the genitive form in English.

In the English language there are two genitive forms: the S genitive and the OF genitive. Generally speaking, the S genitive is used when talking about people - both in the singular and the plural - and the OF genitive in all other cases. However, using the S genitive is becoming more common, mainly because it is shorter than the OF genitive in use, for example in headlines.


The S Genitive

You must remember to use the apostrophe (').

In the singular, you add 's to the noun

  • My friend's paintings are on display in the library.

  • Dean's new camera is awesome.

  • There will be a band playing at Chris's party.

  • Charles Dickens's books are entertaining.


Sometimes the s is left out in cases where the name ends with -s, e.g.

  • Charles' = Charles's

  • Dickens' = Dickens's


You also add 's to irregular plural nouns

  • People's tastes change slowly.

  • The children's faces were glowing when they were singing.

  • All of the men's suits are ready but some of the women's dresses are still being sewn.


However, you only add the apostrophe ' to regular plural nouns

  • The actors' costumes were impressive.

  • Which directors' movies were nominated for Oscars this year?

  • That floor was hard on the dancers' feet.


When something is owned by two people together, you add the 's only to the latter name

  • Ann and Jack's script was chosen. (= They had written the script together.)


But if there are two owners of two entities

  • Ann's and Jack's scripts were chosen. (Both Ann and Jack wrote their own scripts.)


You can have one S genitive follow another

  • Donna's mother's solo was praised.

  • The band's fans' expectations were met.

  • The choir members' spouses' seats were in the front rows.


The S genitive is also used in some cases when talking about place and time

  • David's success is yesterday's news.

  • Getting people to subscribe to newspapers is one of tomorrow's challenges.

  • London's theatre scene is always exciting.

  • New Zealand's best-known opera singer is Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.


It is also used when talking about shops, offices or public buildings. In these cases, the word shop, office, etc. is usually left out

  • Please go to the grocer's and get us some snacks. (= grocer's shop)

  • The assistant director is at the doctor's at the moment. (= the doctor's office)

  • The backdrop was St. Paul's. (= St. Paul's Cathedral)


The noun that the genitive refers to is often left out to avoid repetition if we know what we are talking about

  • That tall easel is Rick's. (= Rick's canvas)

  • The judges found Amanda's performance better than Maddie's. (= Maddie's performance)

  • Many people like Monet's paintings more than Manet's. (= Manet's paintings)


The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night




The OF Genitive

Pay attention to the word order and using the definite article the.

The OF genitive is used when we talk about matters and things. The word order is different from that in the S genitive

  • The last act of the play was impressive.

  • The reviews of the critics were mostly encouraging.

  • The pages of the book had coffee stains.


When you have an adjective to refer to a group of people

  • The problems of the famous are what the tabloids love.

  • The tastes of the rich can be very ordinary.

  • The novel tells about the plight of the poor .


It is also used instead of the S genitive when talking about people to avoid misunderstandings (especially in spoken language)

  • The work of the other students was not as impressive.

The other students' work (= several students) sounds the same as

The other student's work (= one student)


When talking about a group of some sort

  • A large crowd of fans gathered outside the hotel.

  • Tammy was taking photos of a flock of birds swimming in the pond.

  • Six teams of architects submitted proposals for the new community center.


When talking about quantity

  • There was a jug of milk on the table in the painting.

  • Elizabeth bought two tubes of paint and a set of white frames .

  • Someone spilled a cup of coffee on my copy of the manuscript.


When talking about places with the words town, city, village, state, kingdom, republic, island or isle with a proper noun

  • How does the City of Atlanta support fine arts?

  • The Manx triskelion is the symbol of the Isle of Man .

  • Miss Marple comes from the quiet little village of St. Mary Mead.


NB. Do not use of with the words river, lake and mount

  • The River Thames has been a source of inspiration for many.

  • These photographs were taken on Lake Ontario last summer.

  • Here you can see an oil painting of Mount Snowdon.


Source: en.wikipedia.org



A few points to consider

The two genitives can occur together as a double genitive. It is used to indicate that we are talking about one unit, type, case or occurrence of something although several of the same exist. In these cases the noun that the double genitive refers to is preceded by the indefinite article a/an, a pronoun, or number.

  • A friend of Benjamin's in on tour in Australia.

  • That sonnet of Shakespeare's is often read at weddings.

  • Paul met two colleagues of his father's in the foyer before he went backstage.


In English you can sometimes use adjectives indicating nationality instead of the genitive

  • The President of Finland was present at the premier.

  • The Finnish President was present at the premier.


You can also use nouns in phrases that are practically compound nouns

  • The leader of the choir was surprisingly young.

  • The choir leader was surprisingly young.

  • The costumes of the clowns were handmade.

  • The clown costumes were handmade.

Exercise 3.1 The Genitive Form - Multiple Choice

Choose the correct alternative.

 new house was built next to  old mansion. They hired  to do the actual building.  was chosen together with  who also happened to be  neighbor. Jones is  family name.  has lived here since  and they are will be around $350 000. They have sold their old apartment, but they still have to take out . , Doris, has a business partner who just happens to be , so the loan won’t be a problem.

Exercise 3.2 Make sentences - The Genitive Form

Put the words in their correct order to form sentences. Every sentence will have some genitive structure or structures in it, so you must add 's, ' or of as necessary but do not add anything else. There will be a total of fifteen S/OF genitives. Pay attention to your spelling.

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.


1. the that witty name was play yours very .

2. this not signing is hobby autographs author favourite .

3. today created divas how pop are styles ?

4. either not their had successful casting actors been .

5. the the the the to dance owners keys studio building lost had .

6. the the in by new were Germany Smiths bronze hand handles doors crafted .

7. the the for plot rather Mary was movie simple taste .

8. an the the in to received dance winner contest invitation New York .

9. the in some very are characters books scary children .

10. the the the in were overnight chamber bus room instruments orchestra kept driver .


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