I've recently encountered this message: "Invalid arguments' number". My brain has immediately corrected it to "Invalid number of arguments", but this got me thinking about the nuances of using the Saxon genitive here.

My intuition is that the use of Saxon genitive for a plural noun implies that each of the entities in the plural set is separately in some relation described by the genitive phrase, and not that the genitive refers to the whole set as one entity.

Is my intuition correct? Are there any popular examples of this specific difference between Saxon genitive and the "of" preposition?

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    I perceive no implication in a plural Saxon genitive that each member of the possessor is seen individually. For example, when I say “my parents’ house”, I’m not thinking about the house as belonging individually to each of my parents, but to the combined set of parental units. Whether the possessors are conceived of individually or in unity is decided by context, for both the Saxon and the Romance genitive. Jul 3, 2015 at 19:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: such a simple and great example, thank you.
    – liori
    Jul 3, 2015 at 20:25

1 Answer 1


The possessive clitic (-s with various pointless apostrophes) is overwhelmingly used for animate possessors, or possessors which are being treated as animate. You can find examples of it being used for inanimate possessors, but they are unusual.

But on your main point, you are right that the number of X is never rendered as (the) X's number, but I'm not sure whether the explanation you give is right, as I can't think of any other properties by which one might test it.

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