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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Double Possessives: Grammar Girl Episode

1 comment:

GrammarGnome said...

I just finished reading Double Possessives, the article you wrote some years ago for a Grammar Girl podcast. I came across the article while trying to find a way to explain to native German speakers why formulations such as my today's task don't work in English. The phrase is an attempt to translate a typical German construction: meine (my) heutige (of or pertaining to today) Aufgabe (task). Initially I merely said that in English such double possessives were stylistically weak, in that my logically would refer to task, not to today. Unfortunately I have subsequently noticed quite a few instances of such constructions, some of which sound quite "normal". For example, this time of year I might mention my New Year's resolutions. And in the upcoming tax season, the IRS instructions will be replete with the phrase your last year's tax return. Do these examples merely seem correct owing to their prevalence, or is there some other explanation? Can one, for example, view either New Year's resolutions or last year's tax return as fixed entities which can indeed be modified with a possessive pronoun? And when, by the way, did it become acceptable for inanimate objects such as New Year, today, yesterday, tommorrow, etc to have a possessive apostrophe-s, rather than the former of / for / relating to ...?

It would be very helpful if you could do a follow-on to your Double Possessives article to deals with these issues. Happy New Year! (and good luck with your upcoming New Year's resolutions...)