Monday, July 22, 2013

Possessive Nouns That Call for The Apostrophe

Sign to Green Craigs, Gourock, demonstrating g...
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One of the oldest traits that makes man human --and something that we can all relate to-- is 'possession.'

While animals are fiercely territorial, humans are fiercely possessive. We compete so that we can win something, be that an asset or some abstraction such as fame and glory. In fact, Jacques Rousseau, in his Discourse in Inequality #2 affirms that, "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying "This is mine," and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society."

So, as we say in the vernacular, "possession is nine tenths of the law," meaning that very little comes between us and what we own. And this very human trait is reflected in language.

Notice the following examples:

Lady's existence
Children's crossing
Doctor's patient
Grant's Tomb
Tom's arm
The wolf's leg
Angel's breath
God's tribunal

Nothing but the apostrophe comes between the possessing agent and the thing possessed. Furthermore, notice that the agents are both people, animals, and sentient beings.

When we ascribe possession to animate and inanimate beings that aren't endowed with either mind attributes (thinking, reasoning, cognition), or feelings and emotions, then the possession is expressed with the preposition 'of.'

The life and soul of the party
The root of all evils
The shadow of your smile
The Red Badge of Courage
The windows of the soul

When a writer intends to deprecate a character, that is done by denying the apostrophe to the character, which is tantamount to denying that the character has human-like qualities. We can see this in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre:
"Silence!" ejaculated a voice; not that of Miss Miller, but one of the upper teachers, a little dark personage, smartly dressed, but of somewhat morose aspect..."

But to humanize the hero:

"Whose house is it?"
"Mr. Rochester's."

  1. Restrict the use apostrophes to signify possession by humans, animals, and sentient beings.
  2. Use the preposition 'of' to signify possession by both animate and inanimate things, and non-sentient nouns.

Senada Selmani, model

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