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Why is "table's row/leg/dimensions/size (and many more)" correct but not "(the) car's radio" please? Is there any clear rule on using the possessive s in English please?

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  • Oh, table's row is not really correct, if you are talking of multiple tables standing in a row then it's a row of tables (table row might work, but it's awkward) – dukerasputin Apr 22 '16 at 9:08
  • Here, the table refers to a table of MS Excel app. There, each table may have many rows! :) – Franky Apr 22 '16 at 10:47
  • Ah well in that case "the table's row" is correct! – dukerasputin Apr 22 '16 at 10:53
  • The car's radio and the table's leg are correct, and anybody who tells you one of them isn't is wrong. The car radio and the table leg are also correct, and I suspect these are more common. – Peter Shor Apr 22 '16 at 11:44
  • @PeterShor isn't this also dependant on whether you are speaking of a specific car or a specific table? I guess that is why car radio or table leg are more common. – dukerasputin Apr 22 '16 at 12:33
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If you are talking about the leg of a specific table or the radio of a specific car then it's "the table's leg" or "the car's radio". If you are talking about a leg or a radio, and you want to qualify its type, you say "the table leg" or "the car radio".

In the first case you're talking about something that "belongs" to something else. In the second case you're using "table" and "car" as adjectives to identify the type of object.

  • Thanks. The issue is mostly cleared. What about "A table's leg is made by wood." or, "A car's radio is fine for listening news". To me, both of these two are correct too. – Franky Apr 22 '16 at 16:48
  • And furthermore, what rule do you use for using the possessive s please? I know how to use the definite article and it's not an issue for me but using that s is not always easy for me :( – Franky Apr 22 '16 at 16:56
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As a general rule, I'd say that as long as something is an integral part or relating to the features of something (the car's radio, a table's leg, the table's dimensions, the boy's nose...) or when it is in someone's possession, even if only temporarily, (Arthur's sword, John's pen, Martha's coffee...) then you should use the possessive 's. When in doubt try to construct the sentence with "of" so instead of "Y's X", try "the X of (the) Y" as in "the radio of the car" or "the sword of Arthur". I've yet to come across a phrase where that is not possible.

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For me, the first group sounds strange as well. I'd go for "table size" in general or "size of the table" for a specific table. If you insist, yes, it could be ok in casual talks. The possessive relation is acceptable. (Row, leg, dimensions, and size are part or property of the possessor)

However, in "(the) car's radio", car is not a clear (or generally acceptable) possessor of the radio. Normally, radio works independently and is not a part of car, even though it is slightly/temporarily attached/located at dashboard. We do not say table's bowl, when a bowl is on a table.

  • Thank you for your answer. It's fine but not enough :).For example, what about the sentence, "This is John's pen.". Here both of John and the pen can work independently and that pen can be not part of John! – Franky Apr 22 '16 at 8:45
  • Why do you think the car no clear possessor? If there is a specific car you are talking of, and this car has a radio then 'the car's radio' is acceptable and also correct. – dukerasputin Apr 22 '16 at 8:50

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