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"Saxon genitive" is the traditional term used for the ’s (apostrophe-s) possessive clitic[1] in the English language. In traditional grammar, it is considered a word-ending, or suffix. For further information about usage, see apostrophe.

In older English there are examples of it being spelt as "his" as a folk etymology, e.g. "St. James his park", see his genitive.

The English possessive

Modern English forms the Saxon genitive as follows:

Regular noun
not ending in "s"
Regular noun
ending in "s"
Irregular noun
Singular -’s (e.g. cat's) -’s or -’ (e.g. class's, goodness') -’s (e.g. child's, ox's, mouse's)
Plural -s' (e.g. cats') -es' (e.g. classes', goodnesses') -'s (e.g. children's, oxen's, mice's)

Some respected style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style recommend the more modern addition of an s when forming the singular regular possessive but specifically state that adding simply an apostrophe (eg. Jesus') is also correct.[2] Other references such as The Elements of Style and the Canadian Press Stylebook hold that the s is mandatory with only two exceptions: classical and Biblical proper names (e.g. "Jesus' teachings", "Augustus' guards") and common phrases that do not take the s (e.g. "for goodness' sake"). In all other cases, it is incorrect to omit the s.[3][4]

With the exception of one's, pronouns do not combine with ’s to form possessives; a range of possessive pronouns used instead, for example his and its. While its is originally derived from the pronoun it combined with ’s, it is now only standard to write it as its. In standard usage, it's always means it is or it has.

In Old English, nouns declined according to grammatical gender. The modern Saxon genitive is derived from the strong masculine and neuter genitive case of Old English. The plural forms are a relatively modern innovation, and are not derived directly from Old English.

Gender Singular Plural
Strong masculine -es -a
Weak masculine -an -ena
Strong feminine -e -a
Weak feminine -an -ena
Strong neuter -es -a
Weak neuter -an -ena

The term "Saxon genitive" is in analogy to the genitive in classical Latin.

While traditional grammar considers  ’s to be a case ending, it is usually analyzed as a clitic by linguists: it gets separated from its noun in modern usages such as "the King of Spain’s hat", which in theory is ambiguous between "the hat of the King of Spain" (intended meaning) or "the King of the hat of Spain".[5] (Older usage had "the king’s hat of Spain" or, rarely, "Spain's king's hat"; an example in literature is "The King's daughter of Noroway" in The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.)[6]. It can also be used in phrases such as "the man you met yesterday's bicycle"[7], which is not ambiguous.

See also

References


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

Pronunciation

  • (after a vowel or a voiced consonant other than a sibilant) enPR: z, IPA: /z/, SAMPA: /z/
  • (after /p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, or /θ/) enPR: s, IPA: /s/, SAMPA: /s/
  • (after other consonants)

Etymology 1

Contractions.

Verb

’s (clitic)

  1. Contracted form of is.
    The dog’s running after me!
  2. Contracted form of has.
    The dog’s been chasing the mail carrier again.
  3. (informal) Contracted form of does.
    What’s he do for a living?
  4. Contracted form of are.
    Where’s the table tennis balls?

Etymology 2

Representing the Old English masculine and neuter genitive singular ending -es.

Particle

's

  1. Possessive marker, indicating than an object belongs to the noun phrase bearing the marker.
    The cat bit the dog’s tail and ran. (the dog + ’s)
    The cat bit the dog with the shaggy fur’s tail and ran. (the dog with the shaggy fur + ’s)
  2. (idiomatic) In the absence of a specified object, used to indicate “the house/place/establishment of”.
    We’re going to Luigi’s for dinner tonight. — that is, “Luigi’s house” or “Luigi’s restaurant”
    I'm nipping to the butcher’s for a steak.
Usage notes
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Usage with words ending in “s” varies. The final “s” is dropped after regular plurals:

the dog’s tail but the dogs’ tails.

It can also be dropped after words ending in “s”, depending on one’s pronunciation, though this is not required. (See the rule of thumb below.)

St. James’s or St. James’

Irregular plurals with endings other than “s” always take ’s.

the children’s voices

Possessives can generally be recast using of the, and this may be advisable if the contraction seems awkward or ambiguous (which is often the case in speech).

the tails of the dogs

Traditionally, the possessives of Biblical and classical names, such as Jesus and Hercules, are written without a final “s”.

Jesus’ disciples

This may or may not apply to the Spanish given name Jesus.

This is Jesus Ramirez, and this is Jesus’s wife.

When referring to possessions of multiple people, the strictly correct form is with the possessive of each person, as in “Jack’s and Jill’s pails”. It is common to treat the pair of names as a noun phrase and to form its possessive instead, using only one ’s, as in “Jack and Jill’s pails”.

Translations

Suffix

’s

  1. Indicates a purpose or a user.
    You need a driver’s licence.
    These are popular boy’s T-shirts.
    Alex can be a girl’s name.
Usage notes

The particle ’s and the suffix ’s have the same origin but are grammatically different now.

(Particle) a girl’s name : The name of a girl. The particle combines with a girl.
(Suffix) a girl’s name : A girly name. The suffix combines with girl.

Etymology 3

Equivalent to -s, with arbitrary use of apostrophe.

Suffix

’s

  1. (usage problem) Used to form the plurals of numerals, letters, some abbreviations and some nouns, usually because the omission of an apostrophe would make the meaning unclear or ambiguous.
    There are four 3’s in my phone number.
    “Banana” has three a’s and one b. (apostrophe "s" used so that the plural of “a” is not confused with the word “as”)
    You can buy CD’s in that shop.
    These are the do’s and don’ts. (apostrophe "s" used as “dos” may be misread)
  2. (obsolete) Used to form plurals of foreign words, to clarify pronunciation, such as “banana’s” or “pasta’s”.[1]
  3. (proscribed) Used to form the plural of nouns that correctly take just an "s" in the plural. See greengrocer’s apostrophe.
    Apple’s 50p a pound
Usage notes

The use of ’s to form plurals of initialisms or numerals is not recommended by some authorities, except when the meaning would otherwise be unclear. The use in foreign words was common before the 19th century, but is no longer accepted.[1]

The use of the apostrophe in any other plural (as in “apple’s”) — the so-called “greengrocer’s apostrophe” — is incorrect.

Translations

See -s

Etymology 4

Pronoun

's

  1. Contracted form of us found in the formula let’s used to form first-person plural imperatives. Let’s is now considered as a compound.
    What are you guys waiting for? Let’s go!
  2. (nonstandard) Contracted form of as in its nonstandard use as a relative pronoun.
    All’s he wanted was to go home.

See also


Dutch

Suffix

’s; clitic form of des, genitive of masculine and neuter article singular de and het

  1. Used in ’s morgens, ’s middags, ’s avonds, ’s nachts.
  2. Used in place names such as 's-Gravenhage and 's-Hertogenbosch.
  3. Used to construct the following kind of noun phrase: 's werelds + {superlative_adjective} + {noun}
    ’s werelds beste reisbestemming — the world's best travel destination
    's werelds mooiste zeereis — the world's most beautiful sea voyage
  4. Used in 's zomers and 's winters.

’s

  1. Used to form the plural form of nouns ending in certain vowels; the apostrophe actually stands for an elided vowel.
    fotofoto's (instead of fotoos)
    taxitaxi's (instead of taxies)
  2. Used to form the genitive form of proper nouns which end in certain vowels; the apostrophe actually stands for an elided vowel.
    AnnaAnna's (instead of Annaas)

Scottish Gaelic

Verb

's

  1. Shortened form of is.

Derived terms

Conjunction

's

  1. Shortened form of is.
  2. Shortened form of agus.


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