What is the normal way to parse the following types of phrases?

A. [this X]'s Y


B. this [X's Y]

This man's opinion

This girl's idea

This judge's conclusion

This politician's position

I feel that A is by far more natural, and B would be quite odd, but I'm looking for confirmation and explanation, because I have been told, to my surprise, that parsing as B is perfectly normal.

Is A or B more natural?

If so, why? Syntax?

Are there cases when B is the proper parsing? In what types of cases?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Drew, jimm101, NVZ, BladorthinTheGrey, Chenmunka Jan 26 '17 at 9:58

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  • This carpenter's square, this farmer's market, this baker's dozen, this driver's license, this ship's chronometer. Or is that cheating? – Peter Shor Jan 24 '17 at 3:24
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    Define natural. Primarily opinion-based. They mean different things, and both interpretations are possible. Context, context, context,... – Drew Jan 24 '17 at 3:25

What a wonderful question! I had fun considering the possibilities. I think you're right; for the most part, This X's Y would be parsed as [This X]'s Y rather than This [X's Y].

It comes down to semantics. The demonstrative this is used to mark out the noun referred to. Typically, that noun immediately follows the demonstrative. So This judge's ruling gets understood as:

The ruling of this judge

and not as:

This ruling of the judge.

The only exceptions I can think of are compound nouns: This fool's errand would not usually be parsed as

The errand of this fool.

Or take this sentence:

This gentlemen's washroom needs cleaning.

Here, the this clearly refers to the entity gentlemen's washroom.

The washroom of this gentlemen

wouldn't even be grammatical. But aside from the case of such noun phrases (Alzheimer's patient, Hobson's choice), it seems natural to parse This X's Y as being [This X]'s Y and not This [X's Y].

I'm citing no sources, but this was too long to post as a comment.

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