"Bob is fat."

Would it be proper to do "Bob's fat."?

To me, this looks possessive, as if we're talking about his fat rather than using "fat" as an adjective. What's the proper way to do this?

"Bob is fat."

  • How High's a Chinaman (?) – WS2 Dec 1 '14 at 23:42
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    Context is king. If the next word after is is an adjective or noun, the contraction will appear possessive. If it's a verb, adverb, or article, it will appear as a contraction. – SrJoven Dec 1 '14 at 23:43
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    For me, context provides enough clues to keep me from misreading the phrase. "Bob's fat but lovable" = contraction. "Bob's fat is not his greatest problem" = possessive. No problems there. Of course you could find syntactically ambiguous examples, but otherwise you're going to be fine—so yes, "Bob's fat" is proper (if not terribly polite). – Justin Greer Dec 1 '14 at 23:44
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    The normally contracted sentence Bob's fat, meaning Bob is fat, is indistinguishable in speech from the noun phrase Bob's fat, meaning the fat that Bob has. So, yes, it does sound like the possessive, but this never causes confusion in speech, so why should it in writing? After all, how often do you talk about a person's fat as if it were separate from the rest of their body? And how often do you do that as a bare noun phrase, without a verb or adverb? – John Lawler Dec 1 '14 at 23:44
  • Even "Bob's fat but lovable [widget]" changes the dynamic (adjective = possessive). – SrJoven Dec 1 '14 at 23:45

The answer is that it's grammatically proper to write or say "Bob's fat," yes.

It indeed looks (and sounds) the same whether the intention is "Bob is fat" or "The fat of Bob." The difference in understanding would need to come from the context, in writing, or the context or inflection, in speech.

So if the context does not make it clear the precise intention, then it would be smarter to use "Bob is fat" as that phrase is quite clear.

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