Possessives or Compound Nouns

Prefixes and Suffixes Index

Possessives or Compound Nouns :

How to use the genitive inflection?

We can demonstrate the link between two nouns either by using possessive forms (
the US bank's finance division / the finance division of the US bank) or compound nouns (the US bank finance division). Sometimes all three are possible, as here. Sometimes one form is more likely than another.

Possessive forms : 's or of ? We normally use the genitive or possessive 's structure when we are referring to ownership and possession, people and animals, personal and professional relationships, or the origin of something in a country or organisation:

  • Mark's uncle has just bought a Porsche Boxter.

  • Mark's Uncle Frank is Sheila's oldest brother.

  • Pig's liver is full of iron and vitamins.

  • He has strange tastes: he prefers goat's milk to cow's milk.

  • Stan's new secretary is not even computer literate.

  • The company's difficulties should not be underestimated.

  • Scotland's natural beauty is on a par with Finland's.

  • In examples relating to country and organisations, i.e. things which are inanimate, both forms are often possible:

  • The policy of the company / the company's policy is to recruit staff from all EU countries.

  • Poland's history / the history of Poland illustrates the art of survival against the odds.

  • We also use the possessive
    's to express certain ideas relating to time:

  • New Year's Day falls on a Saturday in 2005.

  • Last Saturday's match was fully reported in last Sunday's News of the World.

  • There was twenty minutes' delay before the plane could take off.

  • Disneyland was seven hours' drive from where we were staying.

  • Compound nouns are sometimes also possible here:

  • Our son so much wanted to go to Disneyland that we had to resign ourselves to a seven-hour journey.

  • A ten-minute delay was acceptable, but a three-hour delay wasn't.

  • Note that although we talk about New Year's Day all other special days in the calendar are formed with compound nouns:
    Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Day, Bank Holiday Monday, etc. When talking about resolutions, it can be either New Year resolutions (more likely) or New Year's resolutions (less likely).

    Note that when we refer to a specific date, the
    of structure is used:

  • Holidaymakers suffering from that stomach bug on board the cruise ship, the Aurorra - this was reported in The Sunday Times of 25 November 2003.

  • Over one hundred Renaissance paintings were destroyed in the earthquake of 1926.

  • Compound nouns (noun + noun):

    Note the frequency of compound nouns in the previous two examples - holidaymakers, stomach bug, cruise ship, Sunday Times, Renaissance paintings, earthquake. When we use compound nouns like these, the first noun has the same function as a classifying adjective - it tells or describes the nature of the second noun:

  • This shoe shop sells sports shoes.

  • Communication skills teachers sometimes teach computer studies.

  • Compound nouns are particularly useful in newspaper headlines and reports as they enable a lot of information to be summarised quickly:

  • Premiership footballers on a winter break in Spain may face gang-rape allegation charges.

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