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I'm 18 years old, & I'm working on a new blog. I'm trying to get all of the help that I can get with English. This is the title that I'm planning on using for the first post:

Reasons for this blog's existence

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to use an apostrophe or not to indicate something that belongs to an object.

Here's the questions that I need answers for:

  1. Is it correct to use an apostrophe to show something that belongs to an object? Or are you only supposed to use apostrophes to show something that belongs to a person?
  2. Is "Reasons for this blog's existence" acceptable, or is only the form "Reasons for the existence of this blog" correct?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Nov 17 '14 at 21:21

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    why would it not be correct? – SrJoven Nov 11 '14 at 18:38
  • I feel like it might not be correct because existence belongs to more things that just the blog that I made. It belongs to world, & it also belong to any other thing that someone could create. For example: this scrapbook's existence. – short.fuse.5254 Nov 11 '14 at 18:44
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    I don't know how I'd distinguish Taylor Swift's existence from this question's existence, inasmuch as we're talking about the concept of existence, not to whom or what it applies. – SrJoven Nov 11 '14 at 18:50
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    The fact that usage manuals differ on the question of whether attaching 's to an inanimate thing should be avoided suggests that this is a legitimate question of usage—and thus appropriate for English Language & Usage. – Sven Yargs Nov 11 '14 at 22:43
  • Further to @Sven's point of fact that there is a differing of opinion (but not opinion's difference?) is that a very strong level of "it depends" will apply rather than a set answer. One might hope that the distraction of use of apostrophe as possessive won't detract from the following content. – SrJoven Nov 12 '14 at 15:20

Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage (1966) vigorously opposes applying a possessive 's to an inanimate thing (as in "this blog's existence"), calling such possessives "false" and concluding that "we must stick to the ancestral rule which, with a few exceptions, reserves possessives in 's for ownership by a person." Shoe's answer cites a similar (though more cautiously worded) conclusion by Ron Cowan in The Teacher's Grammar of English With Answers (2008).

Living (as Follett did) in a country whose national anthem includes "the dawn's early light" and "the twilight's last gleaming" in its first two lines and "the rocket's red glare" three lines later, I find it hard to take this asserted necessity (or preference) seriously. And since "The Star Spangled Banner" was written in 1814, it appear that writers have been ignoring the claimed preferable treatment of inanimate possessives for a long time.

Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage (2003) presents what I take to be a much more realistic view of the subject in a multipart discussion of possessives:

H. Inanimate Things. Possessives of noun denoting inanimate objects are generally unobjectionable. Indeed, they allow writers to avoid awkward uses of of—e.g.: the book's title, the article's main point, the system's hub, the envelope's contents, the car's sticker price. [Cross reference omitted.]

The old line was that it's better to use an "of phrase rather than the 's to indicate possession when the possessor is an inanimate object. Write foot of the bed, not the bed's foot." Robert C. Whitford & James R. Foster, Concise Dictionary of American Grammar and Usage 96 (1955). Foot of the bed, of course is a SET PHRASE, so the example is not a fair one. As a general principle, though, whenever it's not a violation of idiom, the possessive in 's is preferable {the hotel's front entrance} {the earth's surface}.

But such possessives can be overdone. For example, avoid using the possessive form of a year—e.g.: "Mr. Rogers, 41, took the show by storm in 1993, winning 28 blue ribbons and the Show Sweepstakes with a total of 1,120 points (which really upped the ante: 1992's winner [read the 1992 winner] scored only 387 points)." Anne Raver, "A Big Flower Show One Loves to Hate," N.Y. Times, 2 Mar. 1995, at B5.

Follett's argument is premised on the notion that, inherently, some "of" phrases are not properly convertible to 's form:

The truth is that these [previously listed] possessive's in the 's form are newfangled and false. The error in writing them is to assume that Florida's governor means the same thing the governor of Florida. At that rate the Book of Revelations would be the same as Revelations' Book. The of in these phrases is not a true possessive but a defining and partitive of, as in loss of breath, piece of wood, ruler of men.

I find this argument unpersuasive. In the first place, if we accept the validity of the assertion "Florida has a governor," it seems entirely reasonable to ask "Who is its governor," rather than "Who is the governor of it?"—and by extension to ask "Who is Florida's governor?" (if we want to) rather than "Who is the governor of Florida?"

Indeed, if inanimate objects are not to be granted 's possessives, by what rationale do we freely use its in connection with inanimate objects? If we're willing to concede a relationship of possessor and possessed between an inanimate object and either an animate one (as in "the customers of the bank") or an inanimate one (as is "the holdings of the bank"), I don't see why expressing that possession with 's should be a problem for scrupulous writers.

I also wonder whether "false possessives" that use "defining and partitive of" (Follett's wording) wouldn't be more usefully considered in terms of their being what Garner calls "set phrases." Certainly the fact that God qualifies as animate doesn't prevent the conversion of "a man of God" into "a God's man" from significantly altering the original sense of the phrase. The would-be possessor's status as animate (or not) thus appears not to have much to do with whether any particular conversion of "X of Y" to "Y's X" survives that conversion with its original meaning intact.

Garner's conclusion that "As a general principle, though, whenever it's not a violation of idiom, the possessive in 's is preferable" goes farther than I think is necessary. To me, the crucial question is this: When you convert "X of Y" to "Y's X," does the meaning change or become unidiomatic? In the case of "the existence of this blog" and "this blog's existence," I think that the meaning does not change substantially, so I see no reason to avoid using the latter form if that's what you prefer.

  • Follett's Revelations argument is taking advantage of a sort of logical fallacy. The "of" in "Book of Revelations" has a different meaning than the "of" in Governor of Florida. The first meaning is short for "consisting of", while the second is more like "pertaining to" or "associated with". In this sense 's is more precise and to be preferred, as it only implies the second sense. – Hot Licks Nov 12 '14 at 0:07
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    I reject Follet's follies. Sadly, "Modern Usage" is being driven by political and legal convenience, not logic. It's simply "too hard" to teach the proper use of apostrophes as has been done in the past. Too many examples of incorrect usage on display - dismissed as "trivial" or "cute" or excused as excercising one's "right to differ." People learn in means not so inflammable must be replaced by flammable. Signs saying "you can't burn this" may make sense in politicia, but not in the real world. The same logic dictates that petrochemical stocks be labelled "ert." – Magoo Nov 12 '14 at 1:15
  • @HotLicks What evidence do you have to say that the 's clitic does not convey the consisting-of meaning? Genitives in most languages cover a very wide range of meanings. – curiousdannii Nov 12 '14 at 4:28
  • @curiousdannii - Except that "of" isn't always a possessive. Eg, in "Book of Revelations" the "of" is not possessive. – Hot Licks Nov 12 '14 at 12:24
  • @HotLicks I'm pretty sure that's what I just said. The thing we call the possessive S does not always convey possessive meaning. – curiousdannii Nov 12 '14 at 12:27

Michael Swan writes in Practical English Usage (2005.441-2) "With nouns which are not the names of people, animal, countries, etc, 's is less common, and a structure with a preposition (usually of) is more common." However, he adds "... both structures are possible in some expressions. [..] Unfortunately it is not possible to give useful general rules in this are: the choice of structure often depends on the particular expression. "

I would say that Reasons for this blog's existence is acceptable.

  • 1
    Thank you @tunny for your answer. I will leave the title of the post like it is seeing as how you think that it's ok that. – short.fuse.5254 Nov 11 '14 at 18:48
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    So, without using 's, how does one denote "ownership" by a, I guess you'd say, "non being"? Using the words in inverted order with "of" is quaint, but often results in awkward phrasing. – Hot Licks Nov 12 '14 at 0:01

Cowan in The Teacher's Grammar of English (p201) states:

Noun phrases that refer to inanimate entities or objects will usually appear in an of-phrase construction, as illustrated in (53) and (54). This is not a fixed rule regarding these NPs, but it reflects a clear tendency among native speakers.

(53) a. the roof of the house - preferred

b. the house's roof - not preferred

(54) a. the hem of your skirt - preferred

b. your skirt's hem - not preferred

On that basis, Reasons for the existence of this blog is preferable to Reasons for this blog’s existence. That would be my preference too, although the latter is perfectly grammatical. To be fair, Cowan states that this method is a “clear tendency” rather than a “fixed rule”. The tendency is confirmed in various nGram searches I have done comparing x’s existence with the existence of x.

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddlestone and Pullum, 2002) is an authoritative modern descriptive grammar. On pages 476 and 477 there is an analysis of this topic. The CGEL states that the choice in cases such as

i[a] Mary’s sister / i[b] the sister of Mary
ii[a] the accident’s result / ii[b] the result of the accident

“is a matter of preference”. It continues: “In [i] one would generally prefer the [a] version, but in [ii] the [b] version.”

In a later section CGEL states: “Least preferred as subject-determiners are NPs denoting other inanimates, e.g. the roof of the house is preferred to the house’s roof”. This appears to be the source for Cowan’s explanations above.

  • 4
    Cowan's assertion that constructions involving inanimate possessors are "not preferred" is interesting, and I'm tempted to upvote this answer for that reason alone—but as far as I can tell, the distinction Cowan makes has virtually no support in the world of actual usage, and it certainly doesn't promote clear writing in any meaningful way. Ultimately I find it hard to take seriously as a useful rule for speakers and writers to uphold. – Sven Yargs Nov 11 '14 at 20:32
  • To be fair to Cowan he does state that this is a "clear tendency" rather than a "fixed rule". And this tendency is confirmed in various nGram searches I have just done comparing x's existence with the existence of x. – Shoe Nov 11 '14 at 20:52
  • Just because someone wrote a book doesn't mean it's linguistically valid. – curiousdannii Nov 12 '14 at 4:29
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    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddlestone and Pullum, 2002) is probably the most authoritative modern descriptive grammar. On pages 476 and 477 there is an analysis of this topic. The CGEL states that the choice in cases such as i[a] Mary's sister / i[b] the sister of Mary and ii[a] the accident's result / ii[b] the result of the accident " is a matter of preference" And goes on: "In [i] one would generally prefer the [a] version, but in [ii] the [b] version." – Shoe Nov 12 '14 at 5:57
  • 1
    In a later section the CGEL states: "Least preferred as subject-determiners are NPs denoting other inanimates, e.g. the roof of the house is preferred to the house's roof". This appears to be the source for Cowan's explanations above. – Shoe Nov 12 '14 at 5:58

To see if you need to make a possessive, turn the phrase around and make it an "of the..." phrase. For example:

       the boy's hat = the hat of the boy
       three days' journey = journey of three days

     the blog's existence= the existence of the blog

If the noun after "of" is a building, an object, or a piece of furniture, then no apostrophe is needed!

  room of the hotel = hotel room 

Resource: forming possessives-OWL

However, the choice of style, I personally feel, is on you.

  • 4
    Your second rule is a little too general. It works with 'hotel room', 'office window', 'chair cover' etc., because they are composite nouns. But it would be 'the car's brakes needed repairing', 'the hotel's front door was painted red', 'the road's camber was steep', 'the dishwasher's programme cycle was in disarray' etc. As I am a native speaker I know these things out of instinct so I'm afraid cannot help with the rule which governs the insertion of an apostrophe here. – WS2 Nov 11 '14 at 19:34
  • The "car brakes needed repairing," "the hotel front door was painted red," "the roads camber was steep," "the dishwasher programming cycle was in disarray." So certain are you? Stay and help you I will. – user1873 Nov 12 '14 at 4:49
  • @user1873 While valid, it might work if I was selling "car brakes" or painting "hotel front doors" or adjusting "road cambers" but if I'm being to told to do something, I'm doing something about the "car's brakes" (implied the article, per this answer) rather than the collection of anonymous car brakes that might exist. – SrJoven Nov 12 '14 at 13:58

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