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Why am I not to say "… found in Mary'r room," which ought to be the logically correct way to use the genitive apostrophe?

Something could as reasonably be found in Mary'r room if it could be in John's room.

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  • Is there something missing here? Why apostrophe + r?
    – Laurel
    Jul 2, 2018 at 6:51
  • @Laurel Yes and no. No, nothing is amiss, though yes, the apostrophe does stand for something missing here.
    – Kris
    Jul 2, 2018 at 6:53
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    You should be clearer about what you mean: don't just hint about why you think "Mary'r room" "ought to be the logically correct way to use the genitive apostrophe". Most sources I have looked at say that the theory that -'s stands for "his" or something like that is incorrect. So there is no reason to expect that we should have a possessive suffix/contraction "-'r". See the quotes in Sven Yargs' answer to Why does Dryden write “Lord Nonsuch his” instead of “Lord Nonsuch’s” but “Bibber’s” instead of “Bibber his”?
    – herisson
    Jul 2, 2018 at 7:57
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    If you meant for the apostrophe-r to reference the last letter of the word "her", you should make that explicit in the question. Otherwise, please explain why you consider the letter 'r' to be "logically correct".
    – Lawrence
    Jul 2, 2018 at 11:31
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    @Kris Perhaps so, and perhaps I'm not as perceptive as some, but it took me awhile to even guess at why you picked 'r'. The various comments help, but it would be much better stating this explicitly in the question itself. Any reason for leaving it out?
    – Lawrence
    Jul 5, 2018 at 5:27

2 Answers 2

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Assuming were talking about the his-possessive and its ilk (also called the "possessive dative"), the forms with "her" and "their" were used "very rarely", so that's likely the reason.

The form with his was more popular, and would even be used (albeit rarely) with females (such as in "Mrs. Sands his maid") and things (such as in "the verse his cause"). According to the OED, his "was most commonly used after nouns ending in -s referring to masculines, perhaps because it was practically identical in sound with the regular genitive ending in -(e)s". (We know that they were pronounced the same because of people such as Gabriel Harvey who complained about it.)


The reason we use apostrophe + s is because it's a contraction of -es. In Old English -es was the strong masculine singular and strong neuter singular possessive declension, but later it would be generalized to all nouns:

In Middle English the es ending was generalised to the genitive of all strong declension nouns. By the sixteenth century, the remaining strong declension endings were generalized to all nouns. The spelling es remained, but in many words the letter e no longer represented a sound. In those words, printers often copied the French practice of substituting an apostrophe for the letter e. In later use, 's was used for all nouns where the /s/ sound was used for the possessive form, and when adding 's to a word like love the e was no longer omitted. Confusingly, the 's form was also used for plural noun forms. These were derived from the strong declension as ending in Old English. In Middle English, the spelling was changed to -es, reflecting a change in pronunciation, and extended to all cases of the plural, including the genitive. Later conventions removed the apostrophe from subjective and objective case forms and added it after the s in possessive case forms.
Wikipedia: English Possessive

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  • +1 Thanks. The first cited reference merely states "were used "very rarely", " about her, their -- sadly, that context is nothing about the apostrophe. See the disaster in "Mrs. Sands his maid"!
    – Kris
    Jul 2, 2018 at 9:27
  • The second part is common knowledge and not about the his.
    – Kris
    Jul 2, 2018 at 9:28
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    Note that "its" is a relatively recent pronoun, and his used to be used for the neuter singular as well as the masculine singular (see english.stackexchange.com/questions/380257/… and english.stackexchange.com/a/148703/77227). So depending on the time period, the status of expressions like "the verse his cause" might be different from the status of expressions like "Mrs. Sands his maid".
    – herisson
    Jul 2, 2018 at 9:45
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The genitive case denotes possession or close association. In English, one way of forming the genitive case is by use of an apostrophe S. There are other letters after which the apostrophe can also be genitive, such as X and Z, albeit you see this rarely anymore, but R is not among them.

There is no genitive case made with an apostrophe R.

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  • Why x or z and not r? When r has a much better privilege there than any other letter? "There is no genitive case made with an apostrophe R." -- the question at hand is all about "Why so?".
    – Kris
    Jul 2, 2018 at 8:52
  • The reason it is as so after x and z, is because these are s-like sounds; this could also be the case after final c, though I have never seen this, so consider that an asterisked option.
    – Canned Man
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:35

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