In a recent Financial Times article (Yemen PM Escapes Assissnation), the apostrophe necessary to show possession was left out. I've seen colleagues do it as well. Isn't it supposed to be "Yemen's PM Escapes...?" Other times I've seen people write "Japan Minister of Finance tackles deflation..." or "India VP resigns..." I have noticed that in most of these cases, the omission of the apostrophe was right before a captilazed appellation (president, country, municipal, etc.) What's going on? Firm grammar rules stipulate that there be an apostrophe, yet there isn't one. If the FT does it, then there must be an exception (in journalism?) that I'm unaware of. Must there or must there not be an apostrophe?

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    Headlines are not required to be grammatical, only to attract your attention. Whether they do so by being interesting or by (apparent) mistakes is not important. – TimLymington Sep 1 '13 at 14:32

In ‘Yemen’s PM’, ‘Yemen’s’ is a possessive determiner. In ‘Yemen PM’, ‘Yemen’ is a noun modifying ‘PM’, in the same way that in a noun phrase such as ‘bank account’, ‘bank’ is a noun modifying ‘account’. Both are grammatical, but the second form is perhaps found especially in newspaper headlines.

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    So it is incorrect? There is no loophole I'm missing? Are you allowed to do this within a body of text? – Emma Emma Sep 1 '13 at 14:46
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    @EmmaEmma yes it is correct and you can use it in text as well because in this case it is not a possessive. – terdon Sep 1 '13 at 14:46
  • Thanks, I realized and deleted my comment. But what of those cases where the noun and adjective forms are the same? Care to comment? – terdon Sep 1 '13 at 15:06
  • There seems to be adequate comment already. – Barrie England Sep 1 '13 at 15:25

This really has nothing to do with leaving out apostrophes.

In “India VP” and “Japan Minister”, it’s not an apostrophe that’s left out—it’s more that the noun is not a possessive at all. The name of the country is just being used as a noun adjunct instead of as a genitive.

This is an extremely common construction in English, but the particular case that you refer to here ([country/proper noun] + [title]) is not very common in spoken English. It is, however, quite common in journalistic English.

In all variants of English, it is very common to speak of, for example, tennis players or farm houses, which is exactly the same construction. In most non-telegraphic styles, though, certain groups of proper nouns, most notably countries and names of people, are not commonly used as adjuncts; instead, either the genitive (clitic or periphrastic) is used or a derived adjective is used instead. It is still perfectly valid to use even these words as adjuncts, however, and in some cases, it is even preferable:

[football] + [player] + [plural] => football players
[England] + [player] + [plural] => England’s players / English players / England players

Note how in the last example, all three constructions have distinct meanings. “England’s players” refers to all the players who play in/for England; “English players” refers to all players who come from England (even if they’re playing abroad); and “England players” usually refers to the players of some specific English team or delegation.

In some cases, especially when dealing with the names of people, forming adjectives is not an option, and only genitives and adjuncts may be used:

[G.W. Bush] + [supporter] + [indefinite] => a G.W. Bush supporter / a supporter of G.W. Bush

When dealing specifically with some body of employment (country, organisation, company, etc.) and a title referring to a person or persons holding that title, you get four possibilities: using the clitic genitive, using the periphrastic genitive, using the proper noun as an adjunct, and forming an adjective. (All these four are of course dependent on whether you can actually form the required form from the proper noun in question—forming adjectives from corporate names, for example, is usually impossible)

There seems to be a specific limitation regarding non-compound country names in this case: the adjunct construction can only be used as a determiner, not as a head noun. This differs from names of organisations and companies (and compound country names), which can function as head nouns. I do not know of a reason for this limitation (perhaps someone like John Lawler can shed some light on this), but it is there:

[HBO] + [CEO] + [definite] => HBO’s CEO / the CEO of HBO / the HBO CEO / †the HBO-y CEO
[India] + [VP] + [definite] => India’s VP / the VP of India / India VP [determiner only] / the Indian VP

This restriction means that the resulting adjuncted noun phrase:

  1. cannot be marked for definiteness (e.g., †“an India VP” or †“the India VP”)
  2. cannot be used as head noun in a noun phrase (e.g., †“This is [†the] India VP”);

In those cases, you would have to resort to using one of the other constructions: “an/the Indian VP”, “This is the VP of India”, etc. (The clitic genitive is inherently definite and can never be overtly marked for definiteness)

They can, however, be used as a determiner in a noun phrase, which is where we get the oft-quoted headlines:

India VP Bhandaravayabundra Āmitsavajranāmsaccha has died in an attempt to pronounce his own name.

It seems somewhat random to me (perhaps it isn’t?), but as mentioned in Greg Hullender’s comment and above, this restriction does not seem to apply to countries with compound names, or even the abbrieviated forms of these names. The following are all grammatically fine:

A United States/US Congressman was caught up in a sex scandal involving a dwarf, two goats, and a letter opener.
The United Kingdom/UK Ambassador to France has been accused of liking wine just a bit too much.
The South Africa/SA representative remained quiet throughout the discussion

  • You can say "A US Congressman said today . . ." I think it points to a vestige of genitive case in English. The attributive noun has to be genitive, but nearly all English nouns have no genitive form. When a noun does have a genitive (e.g. "Indian") then you must use it, not the nominative. (This is just a hypothesis.) – Greg Hullender Sep 1 '13 at 16:15
  • ‘Indian’ is not a genitive, it is an adjective derived from the noun. The genitive is formed by adding the clitic ’s or by paraphrasing the X of Y. It appears, upon closer scrutiny, that the definiteness restriction does not apply to certain countries (those who can be abbreviated?). I will update the answer to reflect this. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 1 '13 at 16:34
  • Yes, normally English isn't modeled as having genitive case at all. The English possessive doesn't really behave a lot like the genitive in other languages. (But I suppose it may depend on how you were taught.) I'm simply mulling the possibility that modelling attributive nouns as genitive constructions might be a better fit and using the location adjectives as evidence. (Not that I've seen that anywhere in the literature.) – Greg Hullender Sep 1 '13 at 17:46

As a general rule, expressions like "PM of Yemen" can become "Yemen PM" and those are best modeled as attributive nouns (not adjectives or possessives), largely because the nouns can still be further modified by adjectives.

When the expression "W1 W2" is not equivalent to "W2 of W1," then it is probably better to model W1 as an adjective, not an attributive noun, but I'm less certain of that. E.g. "card table" and "bank account."

  • ‘Card table’ and ‘bank account’ are completely equivalent to ‘Yemen PM’ and involve noun adjuncts too. They too can be modified by adjectives. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 1 '13 at 21:28

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