Group Genitive (Grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A girl writes with a quill at a portable writing-desk
Writing in 1830. (Wikimedia Commons)

Definition

In English grammar, the group genitive is a possessive construction (such as "the man next door's cat") in which the clitic appears at the end of a noun phrase whose final word is not its head or not its only head. Also called a group possessive or phrasal possessive.

Group genitive constructions are more common in everyday speech than in formal writing.

Examples and Observations

  • "I am sitting here in my apartment, recording the guy next door's activities for my best friend, who is engaged."
    (Meg Cabot, Boy Next Door. Avon Books, 2002)
  • "Joona takes out his mobile and calls Ronny again. 'Sweet Home Alabama' begins to play in the man with the boyish hair's pocket . . ."
    (Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist. Trans. by Ann Long. Picador, 2011)
  • "Liza Minnelli's . . . powerhouse, saucer-eyed renditions of 'Money, Money' and 'Maybe This Time' are the best evidence there is of the future drag-queen patron saint's phenomenal talent."
    (Chris Nashawaty, review of Cabaret on Blu-Ray. Entertainment Weekly, February 8, 2013)
  • "A shoeshine boy came in with the news that a porter in the building had broken his leg. 'The fellow that washes the windows?' somebody asked. 'No, sir,' said the lad, 'the fellow that washes the windows' brother.'"
    (E.B. White. The New Yorker, January 21, 1939)
  • "I was the kid next door's imaginary friend."
    (American comedian Emo Philips)

Origin of the Group Genitive

"The group-genitive construction, as in 'King Priam of Troy's son' and 'The Wife of Bath's Tale,' is a development of the early Modern English period.

'Group' in the term for this construction refers to the fact that the genitive -s is added, not to the noun to which it relates most closely, but rather to whatever word ends a phrase including such a noun. . . . 'He is the woman who is the best friend this club has ever had's husband' is an extreme example from Gracie Allen, an early radio and television comedian noted for her confusing speech."
(John Algeo and Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 6th ed.

Wadsworth, 2010)

Guidelines for Using the Group Genitive

"To a mind trained exclusively in Latin (or German) grammar such English constructions as 'the Queen of England's power,' or 'he took somebody else's hat,' must seem very preposterous; the word that ought to be in the genitive case (Queen, somebody) is put in the nominative or accusative, while in the one instance England, whose power is not meant, and in the other even an adverb, is put in the genitive case. . . .
"It will not be easy to lay down fully definite and comprehensive rules for determining in which cases the group genitive is allowable and in which the s has to be affixed to each member; the group construction is, of course, easiest when one and the same name is common to two persons mentioned (Mr. and Mrs. Brown's compliments), or when the names form an inseparable group (Beaumont and Fletcher's plays; Macmillan & Co.'s publications). On the whole, the tendency is toward using the group genitive, whenever no ambiguity is caused by it."
(Otto Jespersen, Progress in Language, 1909)

Guidelines for Using Joint Possessives

  • "Where two or more distinct persons, animals, etc., are in the genitive, the group genitive applies only when there is joint possession, responsibility, relationship, as in 'William and Mary's reign' and 'Jack, Tom, and Mary's uncle.' If two separate possessions or other relationships are concerned, each noun must clearly be shown in the genitive."

    (Eric Partridge, You Have a Point There, Routledge, 1978)

    • "For joint possession, an apostrophe goes with the last element in a series of names. If you put an apostrophe with each element in the series, you signal individual possession. E.g.:

      John and Mary's house. (Joint)
      John's and Mary's houses. (Individual)
      America and England's interests. (Joint)
      America's and England's interests. (Individual)

    In the last two examples, interests is plural (regardless of the possessives)) merely as a matter of idiom: we typically refer to America's interests, not America's interest. With pronouns, each element is always possessive (your and his time share)."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009)

    Also See

    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Group Genitive (Grammar)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/group-genitive-grammar-1690918. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 3). Group Genitive (Grammar). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/group-genitive-grammar-1690918 Nordquist, Richard. "Group Genitive (Grammar)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/group-genitive-grammar-1690918 (accessed January 22, 2018).