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meta: This is my first time on your site. I have been teaching English for longer than I care to mention (native speaker).

I am trying to find a way of explaining to some intermediate students why we can say, for example, "the Channel Tunnel entrance" (in Folkestone) but we cannot say "the Eiffel Tower top".

I have seen some discussions on use of noun adjuncts/possessive but not on this example using of.

  • You could technically use 'the Eiffel Tower upper floors'. No-one would literally be on 'the Eiffel Tower top' :) – Ronan Mar 18 '14 at 16:09
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    Why can't we say "the Eiffel Tower top"? Isn't it just another way to say "the top of the eiffel Tower"? – Matt E. Эллен Mar 18 '14 at 16:12
  • Thanks for your answer. I certainly would be inclined to say we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower but never say Eiffel Tower top. It's usage, but I don't know the rule (if there is one ;-) – Jennifer Mar 18 '14 at 16:17
  • The general tendency -- and it's no more than a tendency -- is for the Germanic -'s possessive to be used for persons (or living beings) possessing, while the Romance of possessive is used for non-living things. Even (perhaps especially) metaphorically: e.g, Bill's foot ~ ??the foot of Bill, the dog's nose ~ ?the nose of the dog, ??the table's head/leg/foot ~ the head/leg/foot of the table. – John Lawler Mar 18 '14 at 17:06
  • I don't see much that is discordant about 'The Eiffel-Tower summit'. But I tend to agree that some of these expressions sound right, others don't; and I suppose it is a question of custom. For example I might say the 'Everest summit', but 'the summit of Mount Everest'. With the full formal name it seems more essential to use the 'of' form. – WS2 Mar 18 '14 at 18:06
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I'm intuiting that it's to do with compositionality - that is, the Channel Tunnel entrance is a component of the Channel Tunnel, but the top of the Eiffel Tower isn't a part of the Tower - it's a location on it. Just as you can't say the Channel Tunnel middle/end/beginning. Channel Tunnel start is questionable.

I think the explanation would be:

  • If the entity is a component of the whole (Eiffel tower base/stairs/lifts) then you can use it as a qualifier, otherwise;
  • You need to use it as a focus (the bottom/top/middle/outside of the Eiffel Tower)
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    Thank you for your input, sounds pretty good to me. This is really a difficult area for learners of English as I have never found a hard and fast rule. I have just looked up compositionality which is apparently a hotly debated subject, thank you for your insights. – Jennifer Mar 19 '14 at 14:08
  • @jennifer Agreed, in fact, as native speakers, often concepts that we can intuit are difficult to verbalise. Although you and I can look at any given utterance and "feel" whether it is grammatical, this unconscious mastery means that we can necessarily teach it to others. – jimsug Mar 19 '14 at 14:34
  • @jimsugDid you mean to say "doesn't mean" rather than "mean"? I hope so;-) otherwise I don't understand. Thanks. – Jennifer Mar 19 '14 at 16:11
  • @jennifer absolutely. – jimsug Mar 19 '14 at 20:11
  • I am not shouting from the roof tops but this argument holds little water. – Kris Feb 6 '15 at 12:18

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