Possible Duplicate:
Is using the possessive 's correct in “the car’s antenna”?

When talking about animal body parts, which of the following is the right one (or could both be possible with some difference in meaning)?

  • The dog's tail.
  • The tail of the dog.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, James Waldby - jwpat7, tchrist, J.R., Mitch Oct 29 '12 at 2:09

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Of the two:

  • The dog's tail.
  • The tail of the dog.

Grammatically, both are correct. However, the preferred is "The dog's tail."

A dog is an animal, therefore it holds possession of its tail thus making an apostrophe appropriate.

Also when writing, it is advantageous to communicate your point with as few words as possible making your point clear and concise. Hence, why "The dog's tail" is preferential in colloquial english as opposed to "The tail of the dog."

Lastly, if you would like to be super technical, the dog has only one tail and multiple legs. Each leg has a distinct orientation on the dog (front left, front right, hind left, hind right) as opposed to a table leg which may not show a difference between orientations.

This also depends on how specific you want to be. If you were telling someone that the "dog's leg is broken" and then they asked "which leg of the dog?" both of these phrases would be correct in their own right.

  • Your welcome. Even though this was marked a duplicate I feel that the question was slightly different in a general sense from the other. – DogEatDog Nov 4 '12 at 0:55

Many writers consider it bad form to use apostrophe-s possessives with pieces of furniture and buildings or inanimate objects in general.

But many other writers (and more importantly, speakers) don't think this. And until this question, I don't recall coming across anyone taking that principle to the extreme of saying only people are good enough for apostrophe-s.

  • +1 .Indeed. Think of it as a genitive inflection, rather than anything to do with possession, and any objection of that sort disappears. – Barrie England Oct 28 '12 at 22:18
  • The Germanic inflectional (now enclitic) -'s and the Romance prepositional of possessives are in complementary distribution for most people, though individual distributional rules will vary. Most use -'s of animate possessors, and of for inanimates. Since metaphors are the majority of our phrases, this means that there are more legs and tails around than there are actual animals to possess them. Consider The leg of the table needs bracing vs The table's leg, for instance. – John Lawler Oct 28 '12 at 23:23
  • I think the average American speaker would say "The table leg needs bracing" and "The dog's tail needs cropping" – user21497 Oct 29 '12 at 0:17
  • @John Lawler: It's all the same to me if it's the tables's leg or the leg of the table that needs bracing (though if it were yours, it would have to be John's leg, not the leg of John). Also, like Bill, I might omit the 's completely sometimes. But offhand I can't think of a single case where 's wouldn't be okay by me (animate/inanimate subject, metaphorical/literal object, etc.), but of certainly doesn't seem to be equally acceptable in all contexts. – FumbleFingers Oct 29 '12 at 0:31

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