Do the examples 'buyers guide' and 'teachers lounge' carry an apostrophe. At first glance they appear like possessives, but actually the first words are more like descriptions. My instinct is 'buyers guide' rather than 'buyer's guide' or 'buyers' guide'. This is different to a question about children's books, as that earlier question is complicated by the plural not ending in S.

  • I'd say these are 'descriptive' genitive constructions, no different to, say "my [Sainsbury's catalogue]", "Fisherman's cottages", "a glorious [summer's day]", "an [old people's home]". Taking the last one, for example, the genitive is an attributive modifier within the nominal. At the top level of structure "an" is determiner and "old people's home" is head.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 15:41

2 Answers 2


Well, I could not disagree more with @Greg Lee if I tried. The guide is for use by all the people who might want to buy, namely the buyers. Therefore the guide is in that sense the property of the buyers. A clear case of genitive plural and, hence, "buyers' guide".

The whole contentious area of apostrophes with company names has nothing to do with this question: the company founded by Mr Sainsbury has a legal name, along the lines J Sainsbury and Company Limited. Everyone calls their shops "Sainsburys" (with or without the apostrophe if they are writing it down). If you look at one of their shops you will see the single name "Sainsbury".

  • I'd use the singular genitive "buyer's".
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:24
  • Is there only one buyer? That business won't last long.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:30
  • That's not how it works. See here: link
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:32

I agree with you; it's "buyers guide", meaning guide for buyers (rather than guide of buyers). This is a compound noun rather than a noun phrase. A sign of that is the main stress on the first part, "buyers guide" which is typical of compounds, but if it were a possessive construction, main stress would be on the last word: "buyers' guide".

A noun phrase has only one determiner, at the beginning. Compare (1) "I dropped my buyer's guide" with (2) "I dropped my buyers guide". (1) has a noun phrase with the possessive formed by adding apostrophe s to the noun phrase "my buyer", which has "my" as its possessive determiner. The structure is

       [NP [Det [NP my buyer] 's] [N guide] ]  

But the structure of (2) has the direct object NP

       [NP [Det my] [N [N buyers] [N guide]] ]

You could probably use a hyphen in (2), if you wanted: "my buyers-guide" since the compound is a word.

  • 1
    How is this relevant to the use of an apostrophe, though? It seems obvious that the genitive form can be used as the first element of certain "compound nouns" (in your terms) from examples like a children's book/a childrens book or a women's college/a womens college where the non-genitive plural form does not end in /z/. So the stress of "buyers guide" does not exclude the possibility that the first element is genitive plural. Just because it is not the typical "possessive construction" doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't have the suffix that is typically written as -'(s).
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 23:30
  • @sumelic,Good point. Furthermore, *"children book" and *"women college" aren't even acceptable compounds;
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 7:01
  • Yeah, I think it's somewhat comparable to the phenomenon of "connecting elements" like the "Fugen-s" in certain German compound words. Of course, English has much less variety in this area, just as it has less variety than German in things like plural inflection
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 7:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.