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In one of Stephen King's books titled "On Writing" he writes: "The next week my mother called another taxi, we went back to the ear doctor's, and I found once more lying on my side with the absorbent square of cloth under my head. The ear doctor once again produced the smell of alcohol..."

Can someone explain what is the difference between the possessive and non-possesvie usage of the word doctor?

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    In principle, adding the possessive 's simply indicates the doctor's premises/surgery/whatever. But since you're not likely to see him anywhere else, it makes no practical difference. – FumbleFingers Jan 19 '12 at 18:27
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In the possessive construct, the possession has been elided: the ear doctor's is short for the ear doctor's office. You see this with respect to people's homes, too -- "I'm going over to Bob's", for example.

The Stephen King quote is ambiguous because we also talk about going "to the doctor", but in US English we don't talk about going "to Bob" in that case. (I have heard that construct in Israeli English, for what that's worth.) "We went back to the ear doctor" would have been correct there; that focuses on the person while the possessive focuses it on the office. Perhaps Mr. King had unpleasant memories associated with the place more than the person and thus chose to focus on the place.

  • It may be regional. Stephen King and I grew up in the same town. People here generally say "I'm going to the doctor's." – Kit Z. Fox Jan 19 '12 at 20:29
  • I wouldn't say it's regional; that would be common British English usage too. As choster mentioned, it's an implicit reference to the doctor's office, surgery or place. – Owen Blacker Jan 19 '12 at 21:26
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The first instance is an implied object, for example

we went back to the ear doctor's [clinic]

we went back to the ear doctor's [office]

we went back to the ear doctor's [place]

The second refers to the person of the ear doctor or is a metaphor for the experience of the visit or treatment, although it's hard to tell from the quotation.

The [visit to the] ear doctor once again produced the smell of alcohol

[Dr. Johnson] once again produced the smell of alcohol

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