I have a document about a problem description where that description is given step by step, like this:

  1. RED entry
  2. BLUE entry
  3. ...

Now, I want to explicitly refer to two entries in that document, but I'm not sure about the most grammatically correct way to express myself:

  1. In problem's description at RED and BLUE' entries the word X must be replaced by Y.
  2. In problem's description at RED and BLUE's entries the word X must be replaced by Y.
  3. In problem's description at entries RED and BLUE the word X must be replaced by Y

Which one of that is the most correct ?


1 Answer 1


None of your sentences are particularly easy to understand for a native English speaker. I think what you mean is something like this:

In the problem description for the RED and BLUE entries, the word X must be replaced by Y.

You have two cases where you are using a possessive with -'s where you should just be using an attributive, namely:

  • problem's description -> the problem description
  • RED and BLUE's entries -> the RED and BLUE entries

Note that in both cases you really need the definite article.

The reason for this is that the English possessive is typically only used in places where the possessor actually owns the possessed thing. In situations where the possessor is inanimate or is only associated with the possessed thing, the attributive is more often used (though in some situations the possessive may still occur).

  • Thanks for the reply. Can you give some lights about when I should use an attribute instead of possessive, I found myself too many times behind that kind of doubt.
    – utxeee
    Aug 21, 2012 at 13:07
  • I feel like somewhere here one should mention that ’s is quasi-distributive in English, and can also apply to a large phrase rather than just to a single word: Peter, Paul, and Mary’s best albums; the Lord of Castle Black’s surly demeanor.
    – tchrist
    Aug 21, 2012 at 13:14
  • Hi, thank you too. But can you look at my question above, please ?
    – utxeee
    Aug 21, 2012 at 13:40
  • @utxeee, I've added a short explanation of the difference between possessive and attributive, but a more complete answer is outside the scope of this question. Aug 21, 2012 at 14:59
  • I was with you up to the last paragraph. I don't see the animate/inanimate distinction. We often say "this car's engine", "my computer's hard drive", "our kitchen's floor", etc. In this case, RED and BLUE should not be possessive, not because they are inanimate, but because it is unlikely that the intent is to say that the color red owns the entry, but rather that the entry is identified as "red", i.e. it is some sort of name or label. It is the entry that is red, not the entry that belongs to red. This would be equally true if we were talking about an animate object. ...
    – Jay
    Aug 21, 2012 at 16:33

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