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Saxon genitive in English.

The basics - structure of Saxon genitive:

This structure is used as a way to refer to possession (possessive case). The apostrophe + s is added to singular nouns and just the apostrophe to plural nouns. The Saxon genitive is limited to (with some exceptions) people and animals (animate nouns).

My father's bicycle.
(Refers to the bicycle that my father has.)

John's new job.
(Refers to the new job that John has.)

My parents' house.
(Refers to the house that my parents have.)

The lions' meat.
(Refers to the meat that the lions have.)

Listen ...

Irregular plural nouns take the apostrophe + s:

The Oxford Women's Club.

Children's toys.

People's free time.

We can show a chain relationship in this way:

My father's brother's son is my cousin.
(Means, my cousin is the son of the brother of my father.)

Listen ...

For objects, there are other ways to express the possessive case:      top arrow

The object as adjective (adjectival genitive).

The possessive relationship between two objects can be expressed by using one as an adjective (first position) and the other as a noun (second position). The noun in second position is the thing which "belongs" to the noun.

The car [adjective] door [noun] (not, the car's door).
(Refers to the door of the car.)

The church roof (not, the church's roof).
(Refers to the roof of the church.)

The/My watch battery.
(Refers to the battery of the/my watch.)

This structure is also used to say what type an object or a person is. This is not really a possessive relationship:

A supermarket trolley.
(The type of trolley you find in a supermarket.)

Shirt buttons.
(The type of buttons used for shirts.)

A watch battery.
(The type of battery used in watches.)

BBC staff
La plantilla de la BBC     top arrow

Genitive with the preposition "of".

When we are talking about a possessive relationship, we can often use the prepositional genitive instead of the adjectival genitive structure with the same meaning:

The door of the car.

The roof of the church.

The battery of the/my watch.

In other circumstances, for example, to talk about the position in space or time, the genitive with of may be the only alternative:

The end of the film (and not, the film end).

The top of the bottle ("the bottle top" means a lid we put on a bottle). 
(The part of a bottle that is at the top.)

However, for animated nouns, the use of the genitive with of is not usual. For example:

The house of my parents (we do not usually say this).

It is much more common to say:

My parents' house.      top arrow

The double genitive.

It is possible to combine the prepositional of genitive with the apostrophe structure:

He is a friend of my mother's.
(Means, he is a friend that my mother has.)

She's a cousin of the King's.
(Means, she is a cousin that the King has.)

The possessive pronoun is really a Saxon genitive without the apostrophe. So the following are also double genitives:

She is a friend of ours.

John is a work colleague of his.
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Saxon genitive - use in real life:

Shop names.

It is very common to see this structure in the names of the types of shop:

The butcher's (shop).

We often omit the noun shop:

The butcher's

A greengrocer's

A fishmonger's

The baker's

A stationer's.

I'm going to the hairdresser's.

Many famous department stores in London have now omitted the apostrophe from their shop name leaving just the s:


But it is still common to see the names of establishments and buildings such as:

Joe's caf�

Sylvia's shoe shop.

St Paul's Cathedral.

Nelson's Column.
(A statue in Trafalgar Square, London.)      top arrow

The Saxon genitive and talking about people's homes.

We talk about the house where someone lives with this genitive:

I'm going to John's (house).

There's a party at Mary's (house).

Note that we use the definite article the when we refer to the houses where families live:

I went at the Smiths' yesterday.

That house is the Jones's.

Note that we usually only use the apostrophe on the last name if there are more than one:

Let's go to John and Mary's
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The Saxon genitive with inanimate nouns.

It is also common to see the 's genitive with inanimate nouns when related to human activity:

The report's conclusions.

The plan's importance.

The committee's proposals.

The of genitive is also possible: The decision of the committee, etc.

With place names:

Madrid's football teams.

Seville's beauty.

England's green fields.

Human activity with reference to time and dates:

Monday's meeting.

This week's conference.

Last year's World Cup Final.
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Common errors.

With the genitive + 's, we should not use the definite article "the" with people's names or with nouns that do not usually take the article:

This is John's pen (and not, the John's house).

Cleopatra's Needle (and not, the Cleopatra's Needle).
(A statue in London.)

Parliament's decision (and not, the Parliament's decision).

However, we can say:

The President's men.

The Queen's speech.

This is because we always use these proper nouns with the article: "I am the Queen"; "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!".

Exercises on the genitives...

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