writer of feature(s) stories
Posted: 07 May 2007 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I know this is a tired old subject, recently discussed here, but at primary school I was taught to invert a sentence in order to work out where to put the apostrophe eg ‘features writer’ - ‘a writer of features’ so the apostrophe should be after the last letter ie ‘features’ writer’.
In the UK it is always ‘features writer’, without the apostrophe, however, and, in the States ‘feature writer’, I believe (though I could be wrong).
I can’t work it out. If there were a convention of these worthies what would the name of the convention be? ‘Features’ Writers’ Convention’ ie convention for writers of features? Or ‘Features Writers’ Convention’? Or “Feature Writers’ Convention’? Or just ‘Feature Writers Convention’?
I once came across a place called ‘Gulliver’s Travellers Tavern’, a pun on Swift, but how would you punctuate it?

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Posted: 07 May 2007 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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You can say “feature writer” or “features writer,” but using the possessive would be incorrect.

Inverting the sentence can be useful, but in this case you’re confusing two different senses of “of.” One sense is the possessive and the other is the object of action. In this case, the “writer” does not belong to the feature(s), therefore the possessive should not be used. When you invert the sentence, it would be better to use “belonging to” instead of “of” to avoid this confusion.

In this case, “feature(s)” is a simple adjective and should not take the apostrophe s.

As to the tavern name, I would go with “Gulliver’s Travelers Tavern.” It is not a tavern for “Gulliver’s travelers,” so should not have the apostrophe. But if the owner did use the apostrophe, it would not necessarily be “wrong.” Proper names of businesses should be punctuated as the owners style it (e.g., “McDonald’s").

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Posted: 08 May 2007 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, Dave, for this explanation which has cleared it up for me especially the ‘of’ distinction which had never occurred to me before.

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Posted: 09 May 2007 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dave’s conclusion (no possessive in “features writer") is correct but I’m not sure about the logic.  We use the possessive when referring to the writers of specific works:

This novel’s author served in the Navy.

If these sonnets’ writer was not Shakespeare, who was he?

And so on.  You could even say This feature’s writer got the facts wrong.

But we don’t use the possessive when talking about categories of writing rather than specific works:

A short-story writer rather than *a short-story’s writer or a short-stories’ writer.

Now, all of these can be recast with “of”:

The author of this novel…
The writer of these sonnets…
The writer of this feature…
A writer of short stories…
A writer of features...

By Dave’s logic, the “of” in the first three phrases has a different sense than the “of” in the last two.  I find that that untenable.  I think something more subtle is at work here.

[ Edited: 09 May 2007 09:16 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 May 2007 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dr. Techie - 09 May 2007 09:01 AM

By Dave’s logic, the “of” in the first three phrases has a different sense than the “of” in the last two.  I find that that untenable.  I think something more subtle is at work here.

Merriam-Webster lists 20 definitions for “of” if you count the a,b,c,… plus 1 archaic.  Why do you find this untenable?

Are feet of clay necessarily clay’s feet then?

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Posted: 09 May 2007 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m not disputing that there are lots of meanings for “of”; I’m saying that the phrases I listed are so closely parallel, that it seems untenable to say that “of” is expressing a different sense in “a writer of features” and “the writer of this feature”, etc.  The relationship between “writer” and “feature(s)” that is expressed by “of” is really the same in both cases.

In “feet of clay” and, say, “feet of his disciples”, the relationship expressed by “of” is clearly different, so it makes sense to say that the latter phrase can also be expressed as “his disciples’ feet” but the former cannot be expressed as “clay’s feet”.  But the relationship expressed by “of” in the examples I gave is the same in all cases.  And it would be a circular argument to say that “of” must express a different sense since “a features’ writer” is not normal English.

[ Edited: 09 May 2007 10:31 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 May 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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We use the possessive when referring to the writers of specific works

Precisely. The specific work is physical entity that can possess something. But “features” is a category, a description. A description cannot possess something.

A noun can take the possessive form, an adjective cannot.

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Posted: 09 May 2007 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I still think you’re wrong.  For starters, the ones that take the possessive are not necessarily “physical entities”.  We’re not usually referring the physical, printed, copies when we refer to poems, novels, symphonies, etc., we’re referring to mental constructs. Our ability to refer to Shakespeare as “the sonnets’ author” is not dependent on the the sonnets as “physical entities”. Also, we can use the same possessive construction to refer to hypothetical works that don’t belong to any identified writer, as long as they are specific (one might say “particularized") works.  E.g.:  “A novel’s author ought to be consulted before a movie is made from his story.”

Also, I would consider “feature(s)” in “feature(s) writer” an attributive noun, like “novel” in “novel writer” or “poetry” in “poetry editor”.  The fact that these are being used to refer to categories rather than specific work is, I think, the key, but your previous explanation about “of” phrases doesn’t really cut the mustard as an explanation of what’s going on here.  I notice that you don’t address my point above that one can make essentially identical “of” constructions out of phrases that use the possessive and those that can’t.

Specifically, I don’t think that this:

in this case you’re confusing two different senses of “of.” One sense is the possessive and the other is the object of action. In this case, the “writer” does not belong to the feature(s), therefore the possessive should not be used.

comes anywhere near explaining why “the writer of a novel” can be expressed as “a novel’s writer” but “a writer of features” cannot be expressed as “a features’ writer”.  Again, I agree with the conclusion, but the explanation you gave does not explain.

[ Edited: 09 May 2007 01:10 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 09 May 2007 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Similarly,
“the player of a card” can be written as “a card’s player” but “the players of poker” cannot be written as “poker’s players”, though “the players of a game” can be written as “the game’s players”.
I’ll sleep on it.

Uneasy lies the head ...
Queen Bess.

edited in an s

[ Edited: 09 May 2007 01:57 PM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 09 May 2007 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dr. Techie - 09 May 2007 12:03 PM

For starters, the ones that take the possessive are not necessarily “physical entities”.

“Instanciations” rather than “paradigms” then?  A particular feature is not a physical object (it may not even be published yet), but it could be looked upon as a singular instanciation of the class of features.  Likewise with the game’s players, the game is a particular instance of a particular game - the game of poker between Bill and John at 10:05pm 6/5/07 in John’s living room.  The game is not a physical object, but an instanciation from an abstraction? or something like that.  Ooops - another of got slipped in there - infinite confusion to follow (^_^).

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