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I recently asked a question where I used the word "possessivize" because I didn't know the appropriate word. Is there one that's more appropriate?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Oh, certainly, possessivize is a perfectly cromulent word.

It's just not used very often because people don't discuss grammar seriously very often (I often claim that grammar is the last taboo subject in America — bring up a grammatical topic next time you're at a cocktail party and watch what happens).

But I assure you that any linguist could rip off a possessivize or two without batting an ear — when talking, for instance, about vowel changes in genitive case forms

"When you possessivize vowel-stem animate nouns you get fronted vowels before the /-ki/ genitive, but not before the /-qi/ genitive."

It's just a technical term, is all.

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Ironically, cromulent is a more cromulent word than possessivize, insofar as it appears in dictionary.com (but not in Merriam-Webster) – slim Jan 3 '12 at 19:14
If I remember my Simpsons vocabulary aright, possessivize is actually a craptacularly feculant word. The cromulent version is possessivise. But of course -ise (-ize for you damned Yankees!) is a productive suffix even if the word wasn't already in use - but as you say, it is anyway – FumbleFingers Jan 3 '12 at 19:18
@FumbleFingers -ize has a long history, and is not exclusively American. – Nothing at all Jul 15 at 0:20
@Nothing at all: Idealise has never had significant currency in AmE, but until a century ago it was actually the most common form in BrE. The same basic principle applies across the board. – FumbleFingers Jul 15 at 0:27

It depends what you're looking for in a word.

  • Do you simply want to communicate your meaning?
  • Or do you also want to do so without a significant proportion of your readers sitting up and saying "hey, that's a made-up word"?

If you're looking for the latter, I don't believe there is such a word. You have to use the phrase "to make possessive".

How do you pluralise chicken?


How do you make chicken possessive?


Alternatively, keep using the word "possessivise" or "possessivize" (as many people are already doing). Everyone will know what you mean. It will jar for them, as described above, the first dozen times or so they see it. Do it enough, and encourage enough people to do likewise, and it'll be a dictionary word within 10 years.

Remember, there was a time when blog wasn't a word.

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There is indeed such a word: -ize is a well-established suffix suitable for every day use! ( see for example: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/-ize ) – horatio Jan 3 '12 at 19:15
You can't really claim that since the suffix -ize is in the dictionary, any noun followed by -ize becomes a valid word. If it's not in common enough use for the dictionaries, it's the dialect of a niche group. You wouldn't be allowed it in Scrabble! – slim Jan 3 '12 at 19:22
I don't like to be snarky, but as @John says, there obviously is such a word. It's just a standard inflection applied to an existing word but because it's not used often, and the meaning is so obvious, dictionaries would be unlikely to list it separately. – FumbleFingers Jan 3 '12 at 19:25
Actually, you can't claim it isn't a word. It certainly follows the basic rules of formation. I can certainly tableize a chair. It might be for humor or irony, it might be unsatisfactory to your ear, but it communicates, and all you can say about it is that you don't like it. (Not my downvote BTW) – horatio Jan 3 '12 at 19:26
@FumbleFingers As you say, it's not used often. And a certain level of use is what it takes to become a dictionary word. Every -ize word has an obvious meaning, yet words such as unionise have an entry and will get you 8 points in Countdown. – slim Jan 3 '12 at 19:29

Possessivize appears in Google results about 160 times, often used in the way John Lawler mentions. On the other hand, possessivate appears fewer than a dozen times, with most appearances stemming from one source (regparse.c).

Usage frequency aside, either possessivate or possessivize might serve as verbs meaning to make possessive. But as a word, possessivate possesses two advantages over possessivize: it is easier to pronounce, and it is more-obviously not a misspelling of possessive.

Use of the -ate suffix to form a verb seems as valid, or perhaps moreso, than use of the -ize suffix, -ate, like possessive, being of Latin origin, and -ize of Greek. (As a parallel example, we have motive, of Latin origin, forming motivate rather than motivize.)

Among relevant words in the small file linux.words, the -vate form predominates with 14 -vate verbs, seven -vize or -vise verbs, and at least one word (private) irrelevant: activate, advise, aggravate, captivate, cultivate, deactivate, devise, elevate, enervate, excavate, improvise, innovate, motivate, passivate, private, reactivate, renovate, revise, salivate, Slavize, supervise, televise.

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