CHAPTER 17. NOUNS INDICATING POSSESSION AND COMPOUND SUBJECTS
1. Ways in which possession is indicated
a. The ending 's
One way in which English nouns indicate possession is by means of the
e.g. the boy's hat
In the above examples, the ending 's indicates that the hat is possessed
by the boy, and that the bicycle is possessed by Sally. The English
ending 's is related to the German possessive ending es.
The ending 's is most often used with nouns referring to human beings or
e.g. the child's toy
the bird's song
Nouns formed from two or more words joined by hyphens indicate possession
by adding 's to the last word.
e.g. the runner-up's score
the sister-in-law's children
The ending 's may also used with nouns referring to non-living things
which are sometimes thought of as if they were living, such as ships,
countries, corporations, and the earth.
e.g. the ship's bell
the city's parks
the earth's surface
The ending 's may also be used with nouns referring to units of time.
e.g. a day's work
a week's delay
In addition, the ending 's is used with nouns referring to non-living
things in a few idioms such as the following:
e.g. a stone's throw away
your money's worth
It should be noted that the ending 's is used only with singular and
plural nouns which do not end in s.
e.g. the girl's hat
the children's books
the men's jackets
b. The ending s'
For plural nouns which end in s, the ending 's is not used. Instead,
an apostrophe: ' is placed after the s which indicates a plural.
The following examples illustrate how the plural nouns students and
Smiths indicate possession.
e.g. the students' books
the Smiths' house
In these examples, the apostrophes indicate that the books belong to the
students, and that the house belongs to the Smiths.
It should be noted that both 's and s' are pronounced like s. Thus,
in spoken English, there is no distinction between a singular noun with
the ending 's and a plural noun ending in s'. For instance, the phrase
the student's books is pronounced in the same way as the phrase
the students' books.
In American English, singular nouns ending in s can also indicate
possession by means of a final apostrophe.
e.g. James' scarf
In these examples, a final apostrophe is used with the singular proper
nouns James and Dickens to indicate possession.
c. Phrases beginning with Of
When the possessor is not a human being or animal, possession is often
indicated by the use of a phrase beginning with of following the name
of the thing possessed. A phrase beginning with of is most commonly
used when the thing possessed is an abstract quality, such as size.
This means of indicating possession is related to the method used in
French, and may be the result of the influence of French on the English language.
e.g. the size of the portrait
the color of the carpet
the beginning of the story
d. Two consecutive nouns
When the possessor and the thing possessed are both concrete objects,
possession can often be indicated by placing the noun naming the
possessor before the noun naming the thing possessed.
e.g. the car radio
the tree trunk
the kitchen sink
the onion skin
These examples indicate that the radio belongs to the car, the trunk
belongs to the tree, the sink belongs to the kitchen, and the skin belongs
to the onion. This type of construction will be discussed further in the
section on Defining Adjectives.
2. Agreement of verbs with collective nouns and compound subjects
The following rules apply in formal English, but may or may not be
observed in informal English.
a. Collective nouns
Collective nouns are singular nouns which refer to a group. The words
audience, class, family, flock, group and team are examples
of collective nouns.
A collective noun takes a singular verb when the group referred to acts
as a whole or is considered as a whole.
e.g. Our team has won the game.
That family is well-known.
In the first example, the singular verb has won is used, since the
collective noun team refers to a group acting as a whole. In the
second example, the singular verb is is used, since the collective
noun family refers to a group being considered as a whole.
However, a collective noun takes a plural verb when the members of the
group are considered to be acting individually.
e.g. The flock were running, playing and searching for fresh grass.
The audience were throwing flowers and jewelry onto the stage.
In the first example, the use of the plural verb were running
indicates that the members of the flock are considered to be acting
individually. Similarly, in the second example, the use of the plural
verb were throwing indicates that the members of the audience are
considered to be acting individually.
b. Amounts considered as a whole
A noun subject naming a unit of currency or a unit of measurement takes
a singular verb when the amount referred to is being considered as a
e.g. Ten dollars is my best offer.
Five minutes is all that is required.
Two years is a long time.
In each of the above examples, the amount of money or length of time
referred to by the subject is being considered as a whole. Thus, in each case
a singular verb, is, is used.
c. Compound subjects
When the subject of a verb consists of two or more nouns joined by and,
or or nor, the subject can be referred to as a compound subject. In
the following examples, the compound subjects are underlined.
e.g. Cars and buses were filling the streets. One apple or one pear is needed. Neither ducks nor pigeons were in the yard.
i. Compound subjects with And
A compound subject consisting of two nouns
joined by the word and usually takes a plural verb. In the following
examples, the compound subjects consist of various combinations of singular
and plural nouns joined by the word and. In all of the examples, the
compound subject with and takes a plural verb.
e.g. Red and white are my favorite colors. One egg and one lemon are required to make the cake. One teacher and twenty students are present. Roses and tulips are blooming in the garden.
However, a compound subject with and takes a singular verb when the
subject as a whole refers to only one thing, or is considered as
referring to only one thing.
e.g. Our vice-president and treasurer is a person everyone likes. Strawberries and cream is my favorite dessert.
In the first example, the use of the singular verb is indicates that
the compound subject vice-president and treasurer refers to a single
person. In the second example, the use of the singular verb is
indicates that the compound subject strawberries and cream is being
considered as referring to a single type of dessert.
Likewise, a compound subject with and takes a singular verb when the
subject is the title of a book or the name of a company.
e.g. War and Peace is a long book. Johnson and Sons is a company which sells musical instruments.
In each of the above examples a singular verb, is, is used, since the
compound subject is the name of a single thing.
ii. Compound subjects with Or or Nor
When a compound subject consists
of two or more nouns joined by the word or or nor, the verb agrees
with the noun nearest the verb.
In the following examples the verbs are singular, since the nouns nearest
the verbs are singular.
e.g. A bus or a streetcar passes this point every two minutes. Neither my friend nor his brother knows what to do. Cookies or cake is available. Neither sardines nor salmon was served.
In the following examples the verbs are plural, since the nouns nearest
the verbs are plural.
e.g. Sandals or slippers are suitable. Neither pencils nor pens were provided. Cake or cookies are available. Neither salmon nor sardines were served.
When a compound subject consists of one singular noun and one plural
noun joined by or or nor, it is sometimes considered advisable to
place the plural noun directly before the verb, so that the verb will be
e.g. A coat or two sweaters are needed. Neither the teacher nor the students were there.
In these examples, the plural nouns sweaters and teachers have been
placed immediately before the verbs, so that the verbs will be plural.
The following table summarizes the rules for the agreement of verbs with
d. Nouns followed by descriptive phrases
Two or more nouns can form a compound subject when joined by and, or
or nor. However, when a noun subject is followed by a descriptive
phrase containing another noun, the two nouns do not form a compound
subject. In this case, the verb must agree with the noun subject, not
with the noun in the descriptive phrase.
In the following examples, the subjects of the verbs are printed in bold
type, and the descriptive phrases following the subjects are underlined.
e.g. One book, larger than the others, was lying open on the desk.
The leaderof the students was an excellent speaker.
My friend, as well as her sisters, is here.
In the above examples, the verbs was lying, was and is are singular,
to agree with the singular subjects book, leader and friend. The
descriptive phrases larger than the others, of the students and as
well as her sisters have no effect on which form of the verb is used.