Say a list of things has already been mentioned.

How do I refer to an attribute of the first thing in said list?

  • "The first-of-these's attribute"
  • "The first's attribute"

edit: thanks for the unexplained downvotes, really helpful(!)

  • 3
    Is there some reason you've discarded the first attribute or the first one’s attribute? – tchrist Mar 25 at 16:33
  • Just use the name of the first list item again rather than jump through hoops to avoid it. Or use its position: item number one’s attribute. – Jim Mar 26 at 14:10
  • There is no such word as "these's". – TrevorD Mar 26 at 14:32

This seems to be a pertinent question as I haven't seen this discussed in any grammar or on this site.

When the noun phrase ends with a noun we are quite happy to put an 's on the end. This is often described in grammars as the "King of Spain's daughter" or some similar phrase and is discussed on SE here. However, since the 's can only be added to a noun, we struggle when the phrase ends in a word that cannot be a noun:

the first of these's
the last there was's

I said "cannot be a noun" not "is not a noun" because it is is OK to use a word that can be a noun, even if it is not a noun in the context

Henry the Eighth's

You just have to find another way to say it

the first's attribute
of these, the first's attribute
the attribute of the first of these

  • ‘I want to see the first one who gets here’s hat.’ :) The ’s can be added to any noun phrase whether that ends in a noun or not. That doesn’t mean it won’t send a shiver up your spine. ‘The person who’s running’s only choice is to throw everything they’ve got into it. The person running’s best option is to quit now. Whoever called in’s number was recorded in our logs.’ – tchrist Mar 26 at 18:37
  • But pronouns — especially personal pronouns — feel pretty awful: Ì don't like the person who called you’s tone.’ Those rankle worse than the others, at least for me, like in our famous my wife and I’s seafood dinner question. My hunch is that this discomfort stems from our assimilated instinct that personal pronouns alone retain distinct morphological case inflections without requiring the clitic: I, me, mine, my. So adding the clitic to one instead of using its special case inflection feels weird even though it makes logical sense because the clitic is for the entire noun phrase. – tchrist Mar 26 at 18:48
  • Thank you for your excellent examples with different parts of speech @tchrist. I think you are right that there is a scale of rankleness. I have given the situations where no one can reasonably complain (in my view) and I don't think there will be too much complaint with adjectives. After that it just depends on how much rankle you can put up with. I also think that these's is particularly rankly because these ends with a sibilant and that causes extra rankle with possessives. – David Robinson Mar 26 at 18:56
  • And I agree with your second comment completely but I was struggling to express it, @tchrist. – David Robinson Mar 26 at 19:00

You are describing an attribute of the listed item. It's position in the list is secondary to the attribute.

"The/An attribute of the first of those listed." or "The [attribute name] of the first of these."

If they are distinct things in the list then the attribute's position will be clear. "Of the bird, the mule and the horse the color of the wings is the most important."

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