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Is using the possessive 's correct in “the car's antenna”?

If someone owns something I would say: Mom's car.

But if the owner is not a person, does it actually own it according to English rules or common usage? Which phrase is right?

  • The house windows.
  • The house's windows.
  • The windows of the house. (Or something like that.)

(Feel free to modify this question so it would be clear for other people.)


3 Answers 3


The second and third phrases are correct:

The house's windows
The windows of the house

There is no requirement in the English language that possessors be people, and it's extremely common for inanimate objects to be used with the possessive 's. There is very little difference between the version that uses 's and the version that uses of.

Related: Is using the possessive "'s" correct in "the car's antenna"?

  • 2
    It surprises me that this misconception (that possessors must be people) is so widespread. Where did it come from, I wonder?
    – Kosmonaut
    Dec 13, 2010 at 20:26
  • 1
    @Kosmonaut, I've wondered the same thing. It could be a zombie rule promulgated by prescriptivists, or bad second-language teaching materials, or maybe interference from the native language. The fact that most askers appear to be ESL speakers makes me think it's a combination of the latter two. Dec 13, 2010 at 20:29
  • 2
    I've noticed a similar reluctance to use the word "whose" for inanimate objects. For example, "A house whose windows were broken". This is more understandable since "whose" is another form of "who". But there is no alternative word for inanimate objects in this case, so "whose" is considered correct by most authorities, including Shakespeare and Milton.. Dec 14, 2010 at 10:56
  • 1
    As a foreigner, I was never taught a rule that the possessors must be people, but I noticed after some time that it is more usual in most cases to use a noun modifier instead of 's with things. Example: "kitchen sink" instead of "kitchen's sink", "car door" instead of "car's door", "school nurse" instead of school's nurse". Sometimes another construction is the most usual one, such as "weather in Boston" instead of "Boston's weather". That's probably why the question is widespread. Nov 14, 2019 at 15:00
  • 1
    @AlanEvangelista: Native English speakers use their intuition to decide when to us 's with objects and most couldn't accurately explain how they decide. Of your examples here I can say that I would say "school nurse" when referring to somebody's profession or maybe an indefinite person: "She works as a school nurse". "Isn't there a school nurse there?" but I would say "school's nurse" when referring to a definite person. "This is Mary, the school's nurse". This probably wouldn't apply for all nouns. It's hard to analyse instinctual usage. Jan 9, 2020 at 14:24

I'll start by saying that I've seen several heated debates about this online, but the general consensus is that this rule is one of those stylistic ones that someone created that has gotten passed around by some as an actual grammatical requirement. In practice, inanimate objects are quite frequently used with 's. So both of the following are correct:

The house's windows

The windows of the house

If you (or your supervisor/professor/etc.) prefer the second stylistically, that's fine but it's not an actual grammatical rule.


House windows is a compound noun with windows modified by house. The modifier tells us what kind of windows these are, so house windows are different from car windows.

House's windows and windows of the house can both be used to refer to windows that are part of the house, though some authors consider it bad form to use the former.

  • 2
    "House windows" does not have the same meaning as "house's windows", though they overlap. "House windows" uses house as a noun adjunct so that house is treated as an adjective describing the windows (they are house windows, not church windows). "House's windows" uses the genitive case to express the relationship between the windows and a particular house (they are that house's windows, they are not any other house's windows).
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 16, 2013 at 17:53
  • And there is a move towards dropping the apostrophe when there is an association rather than a true possession involved: We bought our children's clothing from the childrens clothing department at Tuscos. Jan 16, 2013 at 19:33
  • @EdwinAshworth considering the apostrophe started as an e, it's like it's wasting away!
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 16, 2013 at 20:25

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