I just came across this article (noun modifiers), and I'm surprised that these two nouns mean different things:

The kitchen’s window

The kitchen window

The Ngram shows zero usage of the first one even though it's very common .


Here are some articles using the first one ( The kitchen’s window ):

The New York Times Making a New House Look Old

The kitchen’s window and door combination has an arch similar to that of the brick-in arch elsewhere in the facade.

One biotech gasps for breath

[...] and an assortment of sweets soon cover a long table by the kitchen's window .

How come? Thanks.

Update :

Thanks to @Lawrence, I've noticed that there is an Ngram apostrophe issue, and that's why it shows zero usage of kitchen's window . To workaround this issue, I used a wildcard and here is the result of the kitchen * window ( Please, click on search lots of books to see the result ):

enter image description here

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    The Ngram shows zero usage of 'the village's church' compared to 'the village church'. – Nigel J Mar 9 '18 at 17:57
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    Wake up, @CryptoBird It doesn't say that they mean different things. It implies that the genitive "the village's church" is wrong, which it is. – BillJ Mar 9 '18 at 20:09
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    'the village store' 'the village post office' 'the village pond' 'the village idiot' 'the village green' 'the village hall' - the idiomatic form is reliable. – Nigel J Mar 9 '18 at 20:50
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    The Ngram issue may be simply an algorithmic quirk relating to the treatment of quote marks. If you click through to "the kitchen window" (below the graph), then add the apostrophe manually, the search returns many results. – Lawrence Mar 10 '18 at 14:22
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    @Lawrence : I think you're right, the issue goes deeper than a programming bug . – CryptoBird Mar 10 '18 at 15:16

First off, in the source sentence:

The kitchen’s window and door combination has an arch similar to that of the brick-in arch elsewhere in the facade.

The possessive "kitchen's" does not modify "window", but rather "window and door combination". If one did use "kitchen" in this context the reader might well be led down the garden path to concluding that the reference was to a door/window combo similar to that that might be used in a kitchen (even though, in this case you could be talking about a bedroom).

And in the second source sentence:

[...] and an assortment of sweets soon cover a long table by the kitchen's window .

What's being described is the layout of the kitchen. Thus a specific window is being referred to, and window is not so much a feature of the kitchen but rather a "landmark".

As with most things English, the rules are mushy, but the non-possessive use of "kitchen" to modify "window" implies a window of the type used in a kitchen, while the possessive implies a window which is "owned" by the kitchen.

There is plenty of room for both forms to be used, depending on context.

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  • I might have written: "The window and door combination in the kitchen has an arch..." Using the apostrophe actually speeds things up, but is it indispensable? – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 13:31
  • @Mari-LouA - I'm sure you might have written it a number of different ways, but you didn't write it, and the usage is idiomatic. – Hot Licks Mar 10 '18 at 13:33
  • What if the noun was table? In the 2nd sentence, would you say "... by the kitchen's table"? or just "kitchen table"? Interesting question. Food for thought (pun intended) :) – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 13:35
  • @Mari-LouA - There's plenty of room for wiggling here. Particularly with "kitchen table" there are associations and implications far beyond a mere piece of furniture. Using the possessive conveys the sense that a piece of furniture is being discussed, rather than the place where the family has breakfast. – Hot Licks Mar 10 '18 at 13:42

They only vary slightly.

The village church: The church which is located in the village.

The village's church: The church which belongs to the village.

In the first sentence it's used a bit like "the town drunk" or "city hall" where it functions more like an adjective than a noun.

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    No they don't. The genitive "the village's church" is wrong! Simple as that. – BillJ Mar 9 '18 at 20:10
  • @BillJ - How so?? – Hot Licks Mar 10 '18 at 13:00
  • The "village church" is not mentioned in the actual question though. So could you please direct your focus on "kitchen/kitchen's window" and the examples cited by the OP – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 13:20
  • @Mari-LouA - Reread more carefully. "kitchen's window" isn't cited either, in the NYT example. – Hot Licks Mar 10 '18 at 13:27
  • @HotLicks what are you talking about? The NYT article does mention the "kitchen's window" and the "kitchen's eating area" (further along) My comment was addressed to Patrick. – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 13:39

A kitchen does not possess things, one or more windows are in a kitchen, a window is a feature. The term kitchen is a noun adjunct, it tells us what sort of window we are talking about. We can go further and add adjectives or other nouns: “a large soundproof frosted-glass kitchen window” for example. Saying a “large soundproof frosted-glass kitchen's* window” would sound odd, and frankly very wrong.

Wikipedia has an article which supports this grammar detail

Noun adjuncts can also be strung together in a longer sequence preceding the final noun, with each added noun modifying the noun which follows it, in effect creating a multiple-word noun adjunct which modifies the following noun (e.g. "chicken soup bowl", in which "chicken" modifies "soup" and "chicken soup" modifies "bowl"). There is no theoretical limit to the number of noun adjuncts which can be added before a noun, and very long constructions are occasionally seen, for example "Dawlish pub car park cliff plunge man rescued", in which "Dawlish", "pub", "car park", "cliff", and "plunge" are all noun adjuncts. They could each be removed successively (starting at the beginning of the sentence) without changing the grammar of the sentence. This type of construction is not uncommon in headlinese, the condensed grammar used in newspaper headlines.

However, the "possessive" apostrophe can be used with inanimate things e.g.

The University's mission and core values

Here University is used as a metonymy, as representing the people who run the institution. We can use the "possessive" apostrophe with objects, when the thing possessed is inseparable from its owner

  1. The bottle's neck is cracked
  2. The neck of the bottle is cracked
  3. The bottleneck is cracked

Many native speakers would opt to say the first or the third sentence but the meaning of all three is the same. Note that bottleneck is a compound word, no longer made up of two words, bottle and neck; the narrow section of the bottle which makes it easier to pour, has its own proper "name".

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  • Thank you so much for your awesome clarification, but to be honest, I have seen "kitchen's window" in several articles, actually . Here is an article from new york times : nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/05/18/greathomesanddestinations/… – CryptoBird Mar 10 '18 at 12:36
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    @CryptoBird thanks, I've got a bit of spare time to search for some references. But NYT's article is actually a very good example. Why didn't you quote that sentence in your question? The NYT is quite famous for its persnickety grammar! – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 12:41
  • @CryptoBird ahh, I have focused my attention on "kitchen window".... – Mari-Lou A Mar 10 '18 at 13:12
  • There is a lot of things to learn here, thanks a million . – CryptoBird Mar 10 '18 at 13:34

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