I've been working on this minimal pair and sentence B is ungrammatical but I don't know the reason so far. I have to give an answer contrasting both sentences but B seems grammatical to me. Does anyone know how can I explain it? Thank you in advance.

A. Today's test was difficult.
B. Geography's test was difficult.

  • 2
    Who said it is not grammatical? We need details about this.
    – tchrist
    Aug 29, 2021 at 23:28
  • 2
    I think it is grammatical, but not the correct way to say that the geography test was difficult.
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 29, 2021 at 23:33
  • @nnnnnn: That depends on how flamboyant a speaker/writer you are.
    – Robusto
    Aug 29, 2021 at 23:43
  • 1
    It's grammatical; grammar is not the problem with this sentence.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 30, 2021 at 0:06
  • 2
    If Geography is the name of a course, it's fine. Geography's final was much harder than Creative Writing's. Aug 30, 2021 at 3:04

3 Answers 3


We do find geography's X with certain meanings.

R. B. Cathcart; American Geography's Image of Human Life in Earth

J. M. Olson et al.; Geography's Inner Worlds

G. K. Conolly, ed. Geography's Place: Promotion of Geography in Australia

Geography's Lesson

I will begin the final part of this examination by briefly summarizing "L'Hôte", a novella that serves as an exceptionally telling fictional exemplar of applied moral values. J. Herbeck and ‎V. Grégoire; A Writer's Topography

Here, religious geography's lesson is simple, subtle, and essential: [R]eligious groups do not simply exist in space; they also imagine and construct space in terms related to their faith."The Supreme Court Review, 2014

Historian David Landes finds this the central strength of geography's message, and, interestingly, the reason many people prefer to ignore geography. J. Agnew and J> M. Smith; American Space/American Place: Geographies of the Contemporary United States

As Tinfoil Hat commented: Geography's final was much harder than Creative Writing's is sound. Or Because she found it hard to get up early, Gina found Geography's 8:00 start time to be a problem.

As jsw29 points out in the comment below, the above print examples are in some sense personifying Geography, so Geography's lesson would be fine for the lesson that Geography can show/teach us, but "Geography's test" is questionable for the test we had in our Geography class. Our Geography test was difficult is what we normally say.

  • Yes, geography's test is sound, in the sense of being grammatically OK, but to avoid misleading those who will come to this page later, it should be said that it still sounds odd; most people would say 'the geography test was difficult'. It may perhaps be relevant that the quoted examples of geography's have a flavour of personifying it.
    – jsw29
    Aug 30, 2021 at 15:57
  • @jsw29 Thanks -- I've added a note at the bottom of my answer.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 30, 2021 at 16:54

There is a question of semantics. The genitive 's' has various nuances controlled by context.

The genitive noun is a determiner that implies an association with its object noun. There are default associations.

A. Today's test was difficult.

= (i) The test that was set today was difficult.

= (ii) The test that was taken today was difficult.

There is no ambiguity here. Both express the difficulty of the test.


The headmaster's test was difficult =

(i) The test taken by the headmaster was difficult.

(ii) The test set by the headmaster was difficult.

Now replace "headmaster" with geography...

B. Geography's test was difficult.

= (i) * The test that was set by geography was difficult.

(ii) * The test that was taken by geography was difficult.

There have been attempts in earlier comments to understand "geography's" as "The subject associated with geography", but this use is not idiomatic and therefore the default association fails.

Idiomatically: "The geography test was difficult."


"The geography test was difficult.", or, more specifically, "Today's geography test was difficult." probably conveys the intended meaning more precisely and accurately than either A or B. Possessive use of "geography" as in "Geography's test" implies that the test literaly belongs to geography (or a person by the name of 'Geography').

  • But the test does belong to geography, so it is not clear why you believe that the formulation is inaccurate and imprecise. It may, arguably, be unidiomatic, but that is something very different from being imprecise or inaccurate.
    – jsw29
    Aug 30, 2021 at 15:49
  • In your example, you could argue that possessive use of "today" as in "today's test" implies that the test literally belongs to today, which isn't really the case, either - I don't see much distinction. Possessive apostrophes can more generally show association rather than ownership - the test is an element of Geography (the class), just like the test is an element of today. I don't really see why "today's test" is any more grammatical than "geography's test", although I do agree it sounds more natural overall. Aug 30, 2021 at 15:50
  • @jsw29: I disagree; the test does not literally belong to "geography" in the same sense that it 'belongs' to the day. Iff it is referring to a test from a Geography course, then it would accurate to assign membership of the test to "Geography" in the same kind of sense as "day", and this may actually be intended usage (but is ambiguous since the the g-word starts the sentence in sentence B).
    – 11qq00
    Aug 30, 2021 at 16:23
  • 1
    The 'possessive' apostrophe-S doesn't always imply ownership. One can ask for a "boy's father" without implying that the father belongs to the boy. You can talk about a "car's owner" without implying that the owner belongs to the car.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 30, 2021 at 16:27
  • @Nuclear Hoagie: Your first sentence is a fair but misleading point to argue; while it is true that an event or item does not belong to a span of time in the same way as, say, an article of clothing to a person, it is a normal construction conveying a valid sense of 'membership'. To your second remark: I agree that in the technical standpoint grammatically both sentences are correct; moreso the semantics are problematic, in a manner closely bound to grammar hence being identifiable as arguably a 'grmmatical' error. Part of the grammatical-syntactical ambiguity lending itself to ..[more]
    – 11qq00
    Aug 30, 2021 at 16:29

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