English Grammar Step by Step
THE GENITIVE CASE
Put the words in brackets as appropriate.
Emily’s relations (the possessor + 's + the thing possessed)
The wolf’s ears
The legs of the chair (the thing possessed + of +
In general, we can say that we use the genitive
case ('s) when the possessor is a person or an
animal. If not, we use the of-construction.
a (Mr Smith, canoe) is superb.
b (the house, the windows) are of high quality.
c I love (your son, trainers).
d You can see (a cat, eyes) in the dark.
e Someone has just pinched (my friend, ballpoint).
The boys’ bikes
The children’s bikes
The boy’s bike
If we have a plural form ending in -s, we add only the
apostrophe, as in the first example. In the second instance,
children is plural, but it does not end in -s. In the third
case, boy is singular, so we add ‘s, as has been seen in
the previous section.
a (your sister, court shoes) are gorgeous!
b (the schoolgirls, uniforms) are awful.
c (the schoolchildren, running shoes) are terrible.
d (the schoolboy, football boots) are inexpensive.
e I don’t like (your friends, behaviour).
the Blakes’ mansion
Ms Woods’s purse
Dickens’s prose style
The examples above are proper names ending in -s. They have
the following characteristics:
The Blakes is a plural noun.
Ms Woods is an ordinary person.
Cervantes is a well-known foreign man, who died a long
Pythagoras is considered to be a classical man.
Dickens is famous and died a long time ago, but he is
Consequently, we can conclude by saying that only the
apostrophe is used with classical names (Roman and Greek) and
famous foreign names which refer to people who died a long
a I have to study the (Archimedes principle) for tomorrow.
b (Mrs Watkins, hubby) is currently overseas.
c I love (Dickens, novels).
d (James, girl-friend) is very intelligent.
e That is (Mr Miles, missus).
4 Revision exercise.
a (Mary, pimples) depress her.
b (Celia, eyes) sparkled with joy.
c (my hat, the brim) is dirty.
d (the video, the romote control) is broken.
e (Denis, watch) is water-resitant.
f These are (Mr Evans, pliers).
g This photo was taken in (my half-brother, heyday). He became
very popular in the ‘70s.
h (this house, the walls) are very old.
i (this book, the cover) is really exquisite.
j (the trunk, the lid) dates back to the 17th century.
k He finds (Euripides, plays) quite boring.
l (John, half-sister)is as meek as a lamb.
m (cigarettes, this packet) is American.
n We need five (these flowers, stems).
o Don’t soak (the dress, the lining).
p (her pupils, homework) was excellent.
q (his dog, tail) was badly hurt in the accident.
r He will sabotage (your warriors, weapons).
s (Miss Curtis, lipstick) was stolen from her clutch bag
t (the Browns, house) was built in the 18th century.
u You’ve scorched (Billy, clothes)!
v I would like to read a little of (Sophocles, poetry).
w (bread, these slices) are too thin.
x (my chair, the back) is very uncomfortable.
y (his house, the walls) are paper thin.
z (my sister, goddaughter) is so predictable!
Eve and Margaret’s bikinis
Mr and Mrs Roberts’s yacht
My sister-in-law’s property
If the possessor has more than one word, we place the
genitive at the end.
a (Fiona and Elmer, ostentatious flat) is beyond their
possibilities. I don’t know how they will cope with
b (Mr and Mrs Jarvis, carrots) are from their garden.
c (the boys and the girls, rooms) are downstairs.
d (my brother and my sister, sense of humour) is fascinating.
e These are (Mr and Mrs White, hammocks).
She’s at the doctor’s (surgery).
Peter’s (pheasant) looks great.
I’m going to the baker’s (shop).
As seen in the examples above, the thing possessed can be
dropped if it is implicit in our general knowledge.
a We need to buy some meat. Let’s go to (the butcher).
b If you want a bunch of flowers, go to (the florist).
c I need a pair of glasses, so I’m going to (the optician)
d My daughter is coming for dinner this evening, so I’m going
to (the fishmonger) to buy some fish.
e My toothache is very painful. I think I’ll have to go to
Tomorrow’s match has been postponed.
The genitive also occurs with time words or phrases.
a (yesterday, competition) was put off because of the weather.
b (last night, performance) was a complete failure.
c (next week, party) will be indoors, as it’s getting cooler.
d (last year, carnival) was a roaring success.
e (tonight, date) is especial. I think it’s been love at
This is New York’s tallest building/This is the tallest
building in New York.
This town’s first cinema was built in 1937/The first
cinema in this town was built in 1937.
The genitive is also possible with places, mostly with
countries, superlative adjectives and ordinal numbers.
a Is (Britain, bus service) efficient?
b She broke (the world, record) last year.
c I would like to see (Italy, most ancient monument).
d This is (the city, first theatre).
e This is (the country, most recent discovery).
9 Revision exercise.
a (my brother-in-law, toupee) is ridiculous.
b (the day before yesterday, reception) was off.
c I was put off by (Nicholas, manners).
d (the palace, the furniture) dates from the 17th century.
e She loves (Catalonia, way of life).
f She wants to open (a carpenter, workshop).
g (my dog and cat, food) costs very little.
h Were (Jesus, miracles) true?
i ‘What’s (Charles, occupation)?’
I’m not sure, but I think he’s an opera composer.’
j (my pals, bikes) are better than mine.
k These are (my housekeeper, keys).
l (her partner, words) came straight from his heart.
m We shall have to erase that bad experience from (our
n (Tess, stepchildren) are a picture of health.
o They always won their matches thanks to (their manager,
p This rucksack isn’t yours. It’s (Eve).
q If my memory serves me correctly, it’s (Elmer, birthday).
r (my uncle vineyards) are the best spot to be on (one, own).
s (the settee, the legs) were made by me.
t (the rocking chair, the wood) comes from Brazil.
u (the day after tomorrow, dancing contest) will take place
in the afternoon.
v (my hometown, second museum) was built on this side of
w (Liz, alibi) isn’t convincing.
x They like (Aristophanes humorous plays).
y He says that he touched (the mermaid, tail) in his dream.
z (that guy, pekinese) is stone-blind.
The firm’s new project is very revolutionary/The new project
of the firm is very revolutionary.
As a general rule, both the genitive and the of-construction
are possible with nouns referring to groups of people.
a (the government, intervention) didn’t make much difference
to what was expected.
b (the company, profits) are getting better at present.
c I don’t agree with (the committee, policy).
d (the team, players) should consider our pieces of advice.
e (the party, members) are having a meeting now.
This is the car of the girl who bought a pair of ballet
shoes yesterday evening.
The moustache of the man who has a scar on his face is very
uncommon nowadays/The moustache of the man with a scar on his
face is very uncommon nowadays.
The possessive case is not possible if the possessor is
followed by that, who, etc.
a It’s (the day [that] we met, a picture).
b This is (the man [that] she promised to be always true to,
c Look at (the ostrich [which] you are feeding, the eyes).
d (the boy [that] Mary loves, the face) is very photogenic.
e (the person [who is] in love with him, the ring) is a snip.
They love Jane Austen’s novels/They love the novels of Jane
My neighbour’s murder/The murder of my neighbour was silenced
by the police.
The sentences above do not indicate possession. In cases of
this sort, both alternatives are generally possible.
a (my ex-husband, sudden death) was a trauma to my children.
b I detest (James Joyce, prose). He was the most pedantic
person on earth.
c (Shakespeare, lines) were a landmark in the theatre of
d (the prime minister, election) will be difficult.
e (the vixen, running up and down) tired her out.
It’s only a mile’s walk.
It’s only a stone’s throw (away) from here.
For heaven’s sake!
For goodness’ sake!
It’s only ten pounds’ worth.
It happened at the water’s edge.
The genitive is common as well in a few expressions, such
as the ones seen above.
a (the sun, rays) are necessary for life.
b For (God, sake), what have you done!
c She told me that she had betrayed me at (death, door).
d They bought (twenty dollars, worth of aubergines).
e When she became famous, she achieved (her life, ambition).
14 Revision exercise.
a He likes (Marilyn Monroe, sex appeal).
b For (our children, sake), please don’t do it.
c (the president, speech) did not convince anybody.
d (my sister, wedding) didn’t last long.
e This book deals with (Portugal, culture).
f He considers (Socrates, thoughts) very interesting.
g (Mrs Brooks, shopping list) is too long.
h Is Mexico (the world, largest city)?
i Now we are going to talk about (a tadpole, gills).
j (Peter, rancour) won’t do him any good.
k (Bess, eggs) are always fresh.
l If you ask me, (John Lennon, songs) are the best.
m (these brogues, the sole) is very good.
n (the crocodile, mouth) is immense.
o (his ex-wife, wristband) was made in Beijing.
p (yesterday, showers) were beneficial to the land.
q I spent the night looking at (the room, the ceiling).
r I don’t know (this word, the meaning).
s He ruined (his ex, career path).
t Someone nicked (our neighbours, hose) last night.
u This is (the people [who live] next door, the pet).
v I didn’t approve of (the multinational, security measures).
w (the kids, survival) was due to the fact that they found
x (the company, enterprising attitude) will set a precedent
in this sector.
y (this coffin, the material) will never perish.
z I’d like to buy some (traveller, cheques).
It is also called the possessive case or the Saxon genitive.
Compare the following sentences:
This is a photograph of Gloria’s.
This is a photograph of Gloria.
He’s Nadia’s brother.
He’s a brother of Nadia’s.
The first instance implies that the photograph belongs to
Gloria; the second, that Gloria is in the photograph. In the
third case, we suggest that Nadia has probably only one
brother; but in the fourth, that she has more than one.
This construction is often called the of-genitive.
Sometimes, it is possible to use the possessor as an adjective:
the chair legs. Compare the following, though:
A truck of vegetables (= A truck loaded with vegetables.)
A vegetable truck (= A truck used to carry vegetables.)
See unit 23, section 15, footnote 34.
Note the pronunciation: /wudziz/
Sometimes, we not only omit the thing possessed, but leave out
the apostrophe as well: Barclays (Bank)/Barclay’s (Bank) is very
We may also say I’m going to the baker, but this is less usual
and better to be avoided. If we say I’m going to the doctor, we
mean that we are going to see the doctor; but if we say I’m going
to the doctor’s, we imply that we are going to his/her surgery.
In this particular case, the apostrophe and the s are usually
She holds the world record in the javeling.
The world's largest river/The largest river in the world is
The world's longest river/The longest river in the world is
Notice that that can be left out here.
Author: Miquel Molina i Diez
Pages: 1 and the key
1 Negative and interrogative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
2 Short answers (Page 2 and the key)
3 Question tags (Page 2 and the key)
4 Questions and exclamations (Page 2 and the key)
5 So, neither, nor, either (the key)
6 Be, used to, would, be/get/become used to, dare, have, get, become, grow, go, turn, fall and feel (Page 2 and the key)
7 Verb tenses: forms (Page 2 and the key)
8 Irregular verbs
9 Verb tenses: uses (Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5 and the key)
10 Personal pronouns, possessives and reflexive pronouns (Page 2 and the key)
11 The genitive case (the key)
12 Singular and plural nouns (Page 2 and the key)
13 Gender (the key)
14 A, an, some, any, no, not, none, each, every and the; compounds of some, any, no and every (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
15 Neither, not...either, none, not...any, both and all (the key)
16 A few, few, a lot, lots, a little, little, many, much, no and plenty (the key)
17 Enough, too, so and such (the key)
18 Comparative and superlative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
19 Adjective order (the key)
20 Relative clauses (Page 2 and the key)
21 Do and make (the key)
22 Modal verbs (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
23 Infinitives, gerunds and present participles (Page 2 and the key)
24 Conditional sentences (Page 2 and the key)
25 Passive sentences (the key)
26 Reported speech (Page 2 and the key)
27 Purpose (the key)
28 Word order (the key)
29 Inversion (the key)
30 Connectors (Page 2 and the key)
31 Prepositions (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
32 Phrasal verbs (the key)