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When talking about something which is owed by an empire or is considered to be a part of that empire, which of the many ways to express this relationship are most commonly used and generally accepted idiomatically?

For example, is it:

  1. The Ottoman war machine
  2. The Ottomanian war machine
  3. The Ottoman’s war machine
  4. The Ottomans’ war machine

Another example:

  1. The Byzantine city of Constantinople
  2. The Byzantinian city of Constantinople
  3. The Byzantine’s city of Constantinople
  4. The Byzantines’ city of Constantinople

closed as off-topic by Edwin Ashworth, David, Mark Beadles, NVZ, Davo Sep 25 '17 at 11:04

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  • With the apostrophe, it refers more naturally to possession. Without the apostrophe, it could refer to type. E.g. People not named Harvard may have a Harvard degree. But Harvard's degree refers more naturally to a degree held by someone named Harvard. – Lawrence Sep 23 '17 at 15:37
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    The rule is always check for idiomaticity. The rule of thumb here is that the attributive noun is often the default when the relationship is general. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 '17 at 15:37
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    @Lawrence Not necessarily possession: "Harvard and Podunk U both offer Bachelors of Arts, but Harvard's degree is more prestigious." – Mark Beadles Sep 23 '17 at 16:12
  • (a) adjective (where available) or attributive noun? "British city" or "Britain city"? (b) (where no adjective available) attributive noun or possessive? "Zulu Empire / city" or with apostrophe? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 '17 at 16:21
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You should say "Ottoman war machine" and "Byzantine city of Constantinople".

  • Ottoman, although derived from a name, is one of the words that people like to say is "used as an adjective". The phrase "Ottoman Empire" is actually an example of this usage. (The Oxford English Dictionary lists Ottoman as an actual adjective; some people might say it is actually an attributive noun, but it doesn't make a difference to the usage in this context. "Ottoman's" is never correct when referring to something associated with the empire.)

  • Byzantine is definitely an adjective. It has the adjective suffix -ine; it's derived from the place name Byzantium. "Byzantine's" is wrong when referring to something associated with the empire. "Byzantinian" is also, as far as I can tell, wrong: while I see that it is used in some places on the internet, I see no reason to think it is not just a mistake. (Amusingly, someone made a post on the "Mandela Effect" reddit about this.)

The forms "Ottomans' war machine" and "Byzantines’ city" that tchrist edited to add to the question are more acceptable from a grammatical standpoint than "Ottoman's war machine" and "Byzantines' city" (they are simply synonymous to "the war machine of the Ottomans" and "the city of the Byzantines"), but they are uncommon in actual text and usually unnecessary. (Off the top of my head, I can't think of any situation where they would be necessary, or even preferable, although I expect it would be possible to create some contrived example.)

In general, when something is called "the X Empire/empire", that's a strong clue that "X" is either an adjective, or a word that can be "used as an adjective", so you should default to using that word in attributive contexts. E.g. the Roman Empire, British Empire, French Empire, Turkish Empire, Russian Empire (see this Google Ngram Viewer chart for more). E.g. I just invented the name "Flumflu empire"; the default assumption would be that the word "Flumflu" acts as an adjective and we can say things like "Flumflu culture," "the largest Flumflu city", "the Flumflu army".

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    This is better closed as genref; there have been a swathe of closely related questions addressing the attributive noun/s vs possessive construction/s issues. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 '17 at 16:02
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    I also noticed that the OED gives “† Ottomaˈnean [adj.] ← Ottoman” meaning that they consider Ottomanean to be obsolete, presumably the adjectival form altogether rather than merely the ‑ean spelling versus some putative ‑ian spelling of the same. – tchrist Sep 23 '17 at 16:02
  • @EdwinAshworth: As I say in the post, "Byzantine" actually seems best analyzed as an adjective in "Byzantine Empire", and in most cases of "X empire" the word "X" is an adjective, so I don't think it's exactly an attributive-noun vs. possessive question. – sumelic Sep 23 '17 at 16:02
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    @tchrist: I left out any discussion of "Ottomanian" and "Ottomanean" because they both seem to have negligible use. "Ottomanic" seems somewhat more common, but still rare and generally unnecessary as far as I can tell. – sumelic Sep 23 '17 at 16:11
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    It's not exactly the same. But I'm fairly sure I also remember another question examining the attributive-noun-or-prenominal-adjective issue. I said that 'genref' was the best way to deal with this question: any dictionary lists Byzantine as an adjective. No research is shown. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 '17 at 16:12

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