Independent Genitive (Possession)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

tabletop jukebox at a diner
We had breakfast at Kelly's before heading home. (In this sentence, Kelly's is an independent genitive.). (Marilyn Root/Getty Images)

Definition

The independent genitive is a construction in which the noun following the possessive form is omitted (such as "We stopped at Sam's"), usually because the context makes the meaning clear without it.

English also has independent genitive pronouns (also called strong or absolute possessive pronouns): mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, and theirs.

Unlike dependent genitive pronouns (or weak possessives), which serve as determiners in front of nouns, the independent genitive pronouns take the place of phrases. For example, in the sentence "That's her book," her is dependent on the noun book, while in the sentence "That's hers," hers is independent.

Examples and Observations

  • "Eternal blue neon, we're never closed.When the world is asleep,
    • Darling, come take a seat.
    • You can always eat at Joe's,
    • Eat at Joe's."
    • (Gary Harrison and Matraca Maria Berg, "Eat at Joe's." Performed by Suzy Bogguss on Voices in the Wind, 1992)
  • "My mother learned that she was carrying me at about the same time the Second World War was declared; with the family talent for magic realism, she once told me she had been to the doctor's on the very day."(Angela Carter, "The Mother Lode." Shaking a Leg. Penguin, 1998)
  • "I like the dry cleaner's. I like the sense of refreshment and renewal. I like the way dirty old torn clothes are dumped, to be returned clean and wholesome in their slippery plastic cases."(Fay Weldon, The Heart of the Country. Viking Penguin, 1988)
  • "Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes's or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?"(Steve Jobs, quoted by Jason D. O'Grady in Apple Inc. Greenwood, 2009)
  • "He crossed Fifth Avenue at St. Patrick's and recalled walking through the church once—such a tourist thing to do—and watching Lois light a candle."(Rick Hamlin, Reading Between the Lines. Howard Books, 2006)

    Independent and Dependent Genitives

    "An independent genitive is not followed by a noun:

    An independent genitive is often used in referring to relationships between people, as in these examples. Notice that this construction has a very specific meaning. The independent genitive a friend of Caroline's does not mean the same as the dependent genitive Caroline's friend:

    Independent: We met a friend of Caroline's in Spain.

    Dependent: We met Caroline's friend in Spain.

    The independent genitive means 'one of Caroline's friends,' who may or may not be known to the hearer. In contrast, the dependent genitive means 'one specific friend,' who is assumed to be known to the hearer.

    "Independent genitives are also used in reference to places and businesses:

    (Gerald Nelson, English: An Essential Grammar, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2011)

    a friend of Caroline's

    a colleague of Frank's

    an old army pal of Jim's

    She stayed at Rebecca's = Rebecca's house

    I ran into Jim in Sainsbury's = Sainsbury's supermarket

    I left my wallet in the barber's = the barber's shop"

    Independent Genitive Pronouns

    - "Note that most of the independent forms are distinguished from the dependent forms simply by the presence of a word-final -s. The exceptions are the 1st-person independent genitive (mine rather than *mys), and the masculine and neutral forms of the 3rd-person independent genitive (his, its), which are identical to the 3rd-person dependent genitive forms. These pronouns are often described as 'possessive' forms. This is not the most useful label, since the meaning of these forms is not restricted to expressing possession. This is shown in the examples in (27), only the first of which can be said to involve the semantic relation of possession:

    (27a) I must clean my car.

    (27b) The professors were not surprised by his failure.

    (27c) Their hometown is Cambridge."

    (Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. Information Age, 2010)

    - "There are four sorts of people. (1) He who says 'What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours'--this is the average sort. (And some say, 'This is the sort of Sodom.') (2) 'What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine'--this is a boor. (3) 'What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours'--this is a truly pious man. (4) What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine'--this is a truly wicked man."

    (Tractate Abot 5:10. The Book of Jewish Wisdom: The Talmud of the Well-Considered Life, ed. by Jacob Neusner and Noam M. M. Neusner. Continuum, 1996)

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