Possessives and Apostrophes
Posted: 06 April 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve been trying to formulate a short, easy, and comprehensive statement of when English writers use an apostrophe that would help those who habitually use an apostrophe when forming plurals.  This got me to wondering about apostrophes and possessives.  If we use apostrophes to indicate that a letter or letters has been left out, what is left out in the possessive form (for example, “John’s book")?  The best theory I can come up with is based on seeing old forms of English that use the phrase “John his book” to indicate possession; I can see that this could have become “John’s book,” and could have been extended to women in the usual fashion of making the masculine form do feminine duty.  However, this is pure speculation on my part.

And the plural possessive ("the horses’ hay") is a whole ‘nother thing....

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Posted: 06 April 2007 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Believe it or not, I posted my topic before I’d seen this. Must be something going around.

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Posted: 06 April 2007 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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English used to have a genitive inflection consisting of an -es suffix (German still uses this).  The apostrophe symbolized the elision of the e.  The “John his book” formation came later, based on an erroneous notion about what the apostrophe represented.

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Posted: 06 April 2007 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dr. Techie - 06 April 2007 05:52 PM

English used to have a genitive inflection consisting of an -es suffix (German still uses this). The apostrophe symbolized the elision of the e. 

I did not know that!  Wonderful.

There is at least one German background church [in Chicago] which refuses to admit the genitive apostrophe in its name.  St. Pauls Church.  I don’t think they explain why anywhere and my guess is that nobody asks.  Oddly, however, this church has a home page and it is labeled “St. Pauls’ homepage.” St. Paul evidently can possess a page but not a church, and there seems to be more than one St. Paul!

Edit: Frequently asked questions at St. Pauls

Why is there no apostrophe in “Saint Pauls”?
At the time of World War I, all congregations with German names were asked to change their names to English because of the prejudice against German Americans during that War. St. Pauls did change its name, but held onto a bit of its German heritage by not putting an apostrophe in “Pauls.” There is no apostrophe in the German language.

The latter, of course, is not true, but I think they meant that there are no apostrophes indicating possession.  There are still elisions of all sorts especially in modern Internet German.

[ Edited: 06 April 2007 09:24 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 07 April 2007 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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From an earlier discussion:

As was evidenced in an earlier post by Dutchtoo. I asked about the origin of the Afrikaans possessive word “se” (the equivalent of English possessive ‘s or s’). He replied that this was an Afrikaans construction no longer used in Dutch, and that the original Dutch word from which the Afrikaans is derived is “zijn” meaning “his”.

One link. And another.
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Posted: 07 April 2007 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thank you all.  I’m familiar with German and should have made the mental leap, but my English language history days are too far behind me. 

I still have to wonder about the plural possessive, though.  German does it pretty much by inflecting the article rather than the noun, which doesn’t give much of a hint about what the English apostrophe at the end of the plural noun stands for.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’ll offer up a WAG because it’s early for me and I’m feeling full of the courage of a new day, but could not the apostrophy at the end of a plural possessive be representing the possessive “s” that isn’t there?

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