42

One of the answers to this question states that "We shall discuss it in our today's meeting" is grammatically correct. To me, that sentence is clearly wrong. While in today's meeting is fine and in our today meeting is OKish (though at the very least clumsy), there's something about the possessive there (our today's) that makes it wrong for me.

I would read that sentence as in our today's (as opposed to your today's) meeting. Similar to in our car's trunk where the our clearly modifies car and not trunk or car trunk, the our in our today's seems to be modifying today's and not meeting.

So, my questions are i) is it actually grammatically wrong to say in our today's or is it just a question of usage? and ii) if it is indeed wrong, how can we explain its wrongness?

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    You figured it out: in that construction our modifies today, and you can't put an adjective before today. In our car's trunk, and our company's meeting, you can talk about our car (one you own) and our company (probably one you work for), but we don't say our today. – Peter Shor Jun 10 '15 at 13:14
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    Actually, if you're Shakespeare, you can say "and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death." So maybe if you have a poetic license, you can say our today. – Peter Shor Jun 10 '15 at 13:18
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    "our" and "today's" both qualify "meeting" and so I believe it isn't wrong (at least grammatically). – Sankarane Jun 10 '15 at 13:30
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    I upvoted Janus's comment, which is certainly "worth noting". But I don't have a problem with our last week's meeting and many other variations on the theme, so I'm not convinced it's a matter of "Multiple deictic qualifiers are inherently invalid". – FumbleFingers Jun 10 '15 at 17:35
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    I'm going to repeat a previous example of mine and place it in bold. The context is the following. I am looking for my newspaper which I bought earlier but cannot find now, I ask my partner: Have you got my today's paper? If "today's paper" is a noun phrase, then I can be the owner of "today's paper" If I switch the order "Have you got my paper today?" The meaning is subtly changed, don't you think? – Mari-Lou A Jun 13 '15 at 4:58
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Usually, a noun phrase in English must have exactly one determiner: you can say "I drove the car" or "I drove my car", but not "I drove car" or "I drove the my car".

Certain nouns (such as plural nouns and proper nouns) don't need determiners: "I love bees", "I love milk", "I love Paris", "I love biology". But I can't think of a case where it's ever legal to use two or more determiners for a single noun phrase. (A possible example would be "all my children", but I'm not sure "all" is acting as a determiner there.)

"Our today's meeting" is illegal because the noun phrase "meeting" has two determiners, "our" and "today's". It would also be illegal to say "the today's meeting" or "our the meeting".

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    You’re right about all: it’s a predeterminer, not a determiner, and thus doesn’t violate the single-determiner restriction. For some reason, I had never realised (or happened upon) the fact that NPs marked with the Saxon genitive function as determiners before. How this came to be, I have no idea—seems like an obvious thing I should have known. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 11 '15 at 8:38
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    @terdon "These my children" sounds incorrect to me, unless you're saying "these, my children" (using "these" as a pronoun instead of as a determiner) or "these are my children" (leaving out the "are", as some dialects often do). – Tanner Swett Jun 12 '15 at 3:03
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    "It would also be illegal..." Illegal? As in "against the law", illegal? – Mari-Lou A Jun 13 '15 at 4:46
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    @Tanner Swett: Your statement, "Our today's meeting" is illegal because the noun phrase "meeting" has two determiners." brings to mind several other examples such as: "our new neighbours", "my math teacher", "your great answer", "our afternoon break", etc. where there are two determiners modifying the same noun. There're two determiners in these examples. Why would they not be, say, "legal"? – Sankarane Jun 13 '15 at 22:41
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    In something like "We are going to visit your father's old people's home", would the noun phrase "your father's old people's home" be considered to be illegal? – F.E. Jun 15 '15 at 19:12
42

This seems baffling, but what is special about today's?

I think it comes down to this:

We cannot use two genitives to modify a single noun.
At least not outside Indian English.

Today's is a "genitive".
I don't want to use the common possessive here, because it's hard to imagine actual possession in this case. For this answer I will use "genitive" to refer to the form that is used to indicate possession and that was once called genitive.

Looking for other examples that sound plain wrong, I noticed that it seems impossible to have two (or more) "genitives" that relate to the same noun unless it is possessive, and we actually intend to convey shared possession. In that case we still form a single genitive:

John and Paul's car.

Now, if we use any other noun or adjective to modify our noun, it always follows the "genitive:"

John and Paul's red car.

Note also that when we have a "genitive", we do not use an article. With non-genitive modifiers, we usually have to use an article:

An old newspaper.
John's newspaper.
John's old newspaper.

Note that "old John's newspaper" is valid, but means something completely different!

In our yesterday's meeting, we have two "genitives", namely our and yesterday's, but only one noun, meeting. For most speakers of English, this causes a clash, either grammatical or semantic, meaning that the sentence sounds wrong.

The same would happen with that car:

*Our John's car.
*Our your car.

Note that our John's car can be parsed fine if we assume that the car belongs to our John. In that case, our does not modify car, but John. See also a bit further down, where I discuss John's sister's friend.

We have no problem with the addition of non-genitive modifiers in between a single "genitive" and the noun:

Our great old fast red car.

As Tim Romano mentions, we can have a double genitive like this:

John's sister's friend.

Here, friend is modified by John's sister's, acting as a single genitive. John's does not modify friend, it modifies sister. We can see this because we can add modifiers in between the two, and they will also modify sister, not friend:

John's younger sister's friend. -> the sister is younger
John's sister's younger friend. -> the friend is younger

As Janus Bahs Jacquet points out, multiple genitival constructions are usually parsed as nested, contrary to multiple adjectival constructions, which can be parsed parallel, all referring to the same noun(phrase).

X's Y's Z -> [X's Y]'s Z -> Z of [X's Y]
John's brother's wife -> the wife of [John's brother]
Alice's friend's phone number -> the phone number of [Alice's friend]


Note that I mentioned most speakers of English. This may become untrue quite quickly, because it seems that in the fastest-growing dialect of English, Indian English, this double genitive is not frowned upon, at least not always. The phrase our today's meeting is commonly used in Indian English, even though other dialects of English frown upon it.

The mentioned examples in the comments of our today's specials and our today's speaker will, I think, sound off to many speakers, but possibly not as much as our today's meeting.

It is entirely possible that a weakening sense of possession in the case of today's will make such double "genitives" slowly more and more acceptable for a growing group of speakers.


And then there is a slightly broader way to look at this, and to take in what I noticed before about the absence of articles when we have a "genitive":

As Janus Bahs Jacquet notes (and I am more quoting than paraphrasing here):

today(’s) acts as a deictic. Deictics always add definiteness to a noun phrase, and so do possessive pronouns and determiners.
You can’t mark a noun phrase for definiteness twice (or mark for both definiteness and indefiniteness).

That’s why neither “the/an our meeting”, “the/a today’s meeting”, nor “our today’s meeting” works: today’s makes it definite, so you can’t add another (in)definitiser.

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    @TimRomano why just time? John's Africa's maps sounds off for the same reason, unless we assume that John owns (an) Africa!. – oerkelens Jun 10 '15 at 14:20
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    Hello. I am your devil's advocate. Don't touch my Ben and Jerry's ice or my McDonald's burger. – RegDwigнt Jun 10 '15 at 14:44
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    @RegDwigнt: my [old devil's advocate], my [yummy B&J's ice] and my [new McD's burger]. As Janus noted, every noun phrase is only modified by one genitive. But they are lovely examples. This answer is turning into a book :D – oerkelens Jun 10 '15 at 14:56
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    Oh, it’s probably worth noting also that today(’s) acts as a deictic, which is why “our today’s meeting” doesn’t work. Deictics always add definiteness to a noun phrase, and so do possessive pronouns and determiners; and you can’t mark a noun phrase for definiteness twice (or mark for both definiteness and indefiniteness). That’s why neither “the/an our meeting”, “the/a today’s meeting”, nor “our today’s meeting” works: today’s makes it definite, so you can’t add another (in)definitiser. (This doesn’t go when today is used as a simple, non-deictic noun, as in @GEdgar’s example.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 10 '15 at 15:06
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    @FumbleFingers he's not arguing against that. Note the John's sister's friend example. That is just a case of John's X where the X happens to contain a possessive. It is not the same as our yesterday's paper. – terdon Jun 10 '15 at 17:45
10

I think I have an example in which the phrase "our today's meeting" might be uttered by a speaker of English, at least in informal conversation.

Alice and Bob are in an office in New York, USA, talking on the phone to Colleen, who is in an office in Perth, Australia. Alice, Bob, and Colleen are members of a team working on a project together, for which they have a status meeting (by teleconference) every weekday at 7 am, New York time. The conversation below, however, is not from the regular status meeting; it occurs when the local time in New York is 7 pm on Tuesday, but the local time in Perth is 7 am on Wednesday.

Alice: "Doris made a good point in today's status meeting." [She is referring to the meeting that occurred at 7 am on Tuesday, New York time, which (for Bob and Alice) is the same day as the day of this conversation.]

Colleen: "What do you mean? Today's meeting hasn't even happened yet." [She is referring to the meeting that will occur at 7 pm on Wednesday, Perth time, which (for Colleen) is the same day as the day of this conversation.]

Alice: "Sorry, I meant our today's meeting, not your today's meeting."

I would hope this phrase would not show up in the team's final report, however. It's extremely awkward in print.

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    @DavidK I don't understand what you mean. Of course we can't say your my question since it is both wrong and nonsensical anyway :). My previous comment was pointing out that your example is not a case of what we're discussing here. If our today is taken to mean our, as opposed to your, today, that's a completely different construction. The issue is about when both our and today's modify the same object. My cousin Sally's cookies is also different since my modifies cousin and Sally's modifies cookies – terdon Jun 12 '15 at 12:27
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    I liked your answer the best. :) Perhaps one can parse your example as: "our [today's meeting]", where it has the meaning of: There is a meeting, and that meeting is one of ours, and that meeting is being held today--it is a [today's meeting], not your [today's meeting], but our [today's meeting]. Perhaps somewhat related could be: "Suzy was a tomboy, but her parents bought her a girl's bike for her birthday. Her favorite uncle bought her a boy's bike, and so, now Suzy has two new bikes. But Suzy, being a tomboy, only rides her boy's bike." – F.E. Jun 12 '15 at 21:06
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    @F.E. Very nice example with Suzy's bikes. Relating it to Tanner Swett's answer, it seems that sometimes a noun in genitive form (boy's in this case) is not a determiner after all, since when Suzy's uncle gave her "a boy's bike," it wasn't a bike formerly belonging to "a boy." – David K Jun 12 '15 at 22:27
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    @Mari-LouA That might seem logical, but it wouldn't usually be interpreted that way by the hearer. It might be possible to explain to the hearer that that is what Suzy means when she says "her uncle's bike"--that it is the bike her uncle gave her--but it would be a non-standard way of interpreting that expression. But a "boy's bike" can also be a type of bike: the type that boy's ride with a straight bar for the saddle--compared against a girl's bike which has a low bent in that saddle bar. The genitive "boy's" happens to be an attributive modifier in "boy's bike", not a determiner. – F.E. Jun 13 '15 at 6:16
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    @Mari-LouA Have you got my today's paper? <== In that context (with speakers who accept "have you got"), then, that sentence seems reasonable to me. Also, your opinion on "Have you got my paper today?" as having a different meaning also seems reasonable to me too. – F.E. Jun 13 '15 at 6:22
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I agree with oerkelens' answer, but I am surprised no one has mentioned that the expected form, at least in British English, would normally be "our meeting today". For example, "We welcome Professor David Morrison to our meeting today." While I think most of the grammatical arguments are valid, the main reason I sense "our today's meeting" to be wrong is that a native speaker wouldn't say it: the correct idiom is "our meeting today", at least in most contexts.

  • But we welcome him to our meeting today is ambiguous: it can be parsed as today, we welcome him to our meeting. The result is the same, but the meaning is (slightly) different. – oerkelens Jun 10 '15 at 20:13
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    This is also the preferred form in StdAmEng. – zwol Jun 10 '15 at 21:48
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    Of course it is. The issue here is why, exactly, is our today's meeting wrong. We all know what the idiomatic phrase is, most of us here have a basic grasp of English :) – terdon Jun 10 '15 at 22:25
  • @philgardner: I think there's no such thing as "the expected form", as you say in your answer. There can be one backed by grammar.Your "sense'" that it's wrong is based on your personal view that "a native speaker wouldn't say it". Such statements do not provide answers. – Sankarane Jun 13 '15 at 22:21
2

Simple: you don't own today.

The normal phrase is "our meeting today".

However, note: "All our yesterdays" is legitimate, but poetical and I can imagine a similarly flowery use of "our today" or even "our todays" but stretching that even further to have that today then possess the meeting just doesn't look like it would ever work to me.

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    All our yesterdays has nothing to do with this. That's a plural, not a possessive. You would need to compare to all our yesterday's thoughts for example. – terdon Jun 11 '15 at 11:49
0

I'm by no means a language expert, but when I look at "our today's meeting", I feel it's wrong because of where time-qualifying words should go. In English, they always go after the verb (I went to the shop yesterday), while in my native German, and other Germanic languages (and probably other languages too) they come before the verb (I went yesterday to the shop...). I think you call that rule "time-manner-place". Here is a useful link! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time%E2%80%93manner%E2%80%93place

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    Sorry, but that's just wrong. Yesterday, I went to the shop, is perfectly correct. As is Today it rained; yesterday it didn't. – terdon Jun 11 '15 at 15:56
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    "I went yesterday to the shop" is also entirely correct in English, just a bit odd. – Matthew Read Jun 11 '15 at 17:51

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