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I need to be able to identify the word classes/parts of speech of each word in a sentence such as: "He walked into the doctor's office." Is it a possessive determiner? A possessive adjective? A possessive noun?

This wikipedia page indicates (without reference) that it can be called a determiner: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possessive_determiner. I see the parallel with "The doctor called him; he walked into her office," where "her" - which is a possessive determiner - serves an almost identical function as "the doctor's". It's determining the specificity of the office, much like the determiners "the office" or (that office). However, most pages I've found on determiners don't mention this type of formation, and they present determiners as a closed word class (which logically can't include all cases of "[noun]'s").

"Doctor" in the sense referred to here is a noun, and the 's commonly shows possession, but in the case of "the doctor's office" the word "doctor's" isn't a noun in its own right, is it? Without the head noun "office", it doesn't signify any specific object, merely the quality of belonging (as in "the doctor's house", "the doctor's garden" etc).

As it's modifying/adding information about the office, is it an adjective in this case?

Does it depend on whether "the" is considered to be referring to the (specific) doctor or to the (specific) office?

Thanks for any help!

  • In "He walked into the doctor's office", "the doctor's" is a genitive noun phrase (note the 's genitive marking). Its function in the clause is 'determiner'. Many people say 'possessive' instead of genitive, though the latter is the correct term. – BillJ Aug 13 '16 at 17:37
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    Both terms are fine; neither is incorrect, and in English they refer to the same phenomena. Genitive has a checkered past as a case name, but English no longer has cases, so possessive carries fewer Latinate presuppositions. The doctor is clearly a noun phrase, and the clitic -'s marks it as a possessive. – John Lawler Aug 13 '16 at 17:44
  • 'Possessive' would hardly be appropriate for something like "her rapid action" and "her acceptance of the offer". Neither of those permits a natural paraphrase with possess in the way that her car can be paraphrased as the car she possesses. Case most certainly does still exist, though it is limited to pronouns which have nominative and accusative contrast, in addition to genitive. – BillJ Aug 13 '16 at 18:00
  • Thanks Bill and John! To check whether I understand correctly: in this phrase, "the doctor's" is both a noun phrase and a determiner? The word class is 'Noun Phrase' and the function is 'Determiner'? – stonerocks Aug 13 '16 at 18:03
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    @BillJ but the term genitive is even farther removed from is grammatical function than is the term possessive. The name genitive indicates that it is the case of parenthood. – phoog Oct 26 '16 at 4:00
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Both terms are fine; neither is incorrect, and in English they refer to the same phenomena. Genitive has a checkered past as a case name, but English no longer has cases, so possessive carries fewer Latinate presuppositions. The doctor is clearly a noun phrase, and the clitic -'s marks it as a possessive. – John Lawler

  • The -'s does not mark it as possessive. The semantic relation between the genitive NP and the following head is by no means limited to that of possession, for example NPs like "her rapid action", "his anger" and so on, have nothing to do with possession. Which is why "genitive" is a better term. "Genitive" is an inflectional case of the noun whose primary use to mark an NP as determiner within the structure of a larger NP. – BillJ Oct 26 '16 at 8:25

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