I know my grammar and punctuation quite well, but yesterday I found myself positively perplexed by a question concerning an apostrophe.
For a seminar advertisement, the writer went with the title “Horticulturalist Professionals Seminar.” She asked me where the apostrophe would go. Of course, I said after the “s” on “Professionals” since it's plural. By then I started wondering about the actual possession going on, and I realized there really is no possession. The professionals don't own the seminar; it's just for them.
Is this a case of the attributive noun, or is it actually possession?
I lean toward it being attributive but I can easily see it as possessive. There are many instances where a possessive is used when the meeting or maybe a place, like a school or a church, exists to serve a group of people. It can then properly be said that it belongs to them. That said, I still think this is an attributive noun.
John is taking calculus in a night class at the local college. Last night John's class ran late.
Wait a minute: John's class? He doesn't own the class does he? If anything, it's the professor's class, or the college's class, not John's. But the class is for John. Well, not specifically, but in the sense that he is participating, he (and the rest of the students) “possess” it. Is “my” birthday party mine? If I didn't plan it, didn't bake the cake, didn't buy the favors, didn't even know it was happening? Do I own it? Do I possess it? I don't think so. It is “for” me, so in that sense it is mine. Whether the seminar is held by the Horticultural Professionals for non-HPs, by them for their own benefit, or by someone else for them doesn't matter: they possess it just as much as John does his class. Put in the apostrophe.
How's that for midnight logic?
For a long time I wondered about this, but in the last decade or two I've concluded that it's all a big misunderstanding. The term “possessive” notwithstanding, the possessive form does not (necessarily) indicate ownership, merely association in some way.
If you doubt it, you will have to cull from your language all of the following terms: my teacher, my dad, my God, my apartment, my bus, my religion, my favorite author, my job, my responsibilities, my skills, my education, my college, my diploma, my marriage, my understanding, my book (the one I wrote, I mean), my country, my language, my route, my dream, my ambition, my post, my words, my speech, my lunch-time, my friends, my travels, my body, my disease, my cowlick, my fear, my platoon, my flight, mein kampf, my idea, my grievance, my joy… No need to go on; you get the idea.
My uncertainty would be about whether “horticulturalist is plural or singular. You could, after all, have a horticultural professional's seminar. Either one would work equally well, as far as I can tell.
Yup, that's my(!) point: association or involvement, not actual possession or ownership.
The singular-plural question here is a bit fuzzy: it's a dog's life, a whizbang designed for the skilled amateur, yet the male horticultural professionals will use the men's room, not the man's room; and I have a hard time with the concept of a seminar for one. I would still use the possessive plural.
I haven't highjacked a thread in a while, and this one looks like it might die otherwise, so here's a side hike: I've often heard complaints about the phrase (for example) “a friend of John's”. Why, it is asked, is “John” in the possessive? Isn't the meaning simply “John's friend”, or “a friend of John”?
My own answer is: No, that's not its meaning. “A friend of John's” does not mean “a friend of John”; it implies that John has several friends and means that this is one of them. Or to put it another way, it means “ONE of John's friends”, or “a friend [from among] John's [friends]”. Thus “a friend of John's” is perfectly correct.
Anyone want to object? Have at thee, varlet!
Ah, the game continues!
Depending on the context, “This is John's friend” might imply several things: this is the friend we were discussing, this is his only friend, this is not his enemy, this is one of his friends. I don't see why you would automatically infer “only friend”.
As for “a friend of John/John's”: We do say a friend of mine/yours/hers, etc., which is a strong case for John's, don't you think? In my opinion, the “of John” and “of John's” represent slightly different uses of the word “of,” of which there are zillions, and that both are correct. It's a bit of a mind-bender, and difficult to explain, but it works in my head. What think ye, Hijacker Bob?
My last comment was based on a series of statements by Bob. ” 'A friend of John's' does not mean 'a friend of John'; it implies that John has several friends and means that this is one of them. Or to put it another way, it means 'ONE of John's friends', or 'a friend [from among] John's [friends]'.” Previously “A friend of John” = “John's friend”. It seemed that the logic was leading to say that “John's friend” could not mean one of many friends. That is left to “A friend of John's”
I will point out that I don't believe any of this because I don't believe the original premise. I'm only following it to it's ultimate conclusion.
I'm just not getting the “a friend of John's” = “one of John's friends” distinction. For me, it just doesn't make sense to say “a friend of John's.” I would instead say “a friend of John.” That just means a friend, maybe one of many, maybe the only one (poor John).
Perhaps this is a dialect thing. (I'm speaking/writing as a pureblood west-central Wisconsinite.) I've never of this dialect feature, but it wouldn't surprise me all that much if it existed. Of course, it could just be personal preference as well. Thoughts on that?
slafaive, would you say, “not a friend of him, but a friend of me”? As I mentioned above, in my experience the pronoun is always possessive in this construction, so, if we can reasonably hope for consistency in the language, wouldn't the noun be possessive as well? “This is an old friend of mine,” but “Thanks for being a friend to me.”
Slafaive, I agree that “a friend of John” means just “a friend, maybe one of many, maybe the only one”. What I'm saying is that “a friend of John's” is unlike “a friend of John” in that it DOES say John has multiple friends; it means, in fact, “one of John's friends”. As I said before, the “of” in this case is not possessive (“John's” is already possessive); it's another and older sense of “of” meaning “from” or “from among”.
Consider “I'm of Minneapolis”. Nowadays we would say “I'm FROM Minneapolis”, but we still understand the older meaning. “Of” is not possessive in this case, it's a preposition showing direction of travel.
Consider “one of John's friends”. In that case, too, “of” isn't possessive; it means “from among”, and “one of John's friends” means a member selected from the set of John's friends.
I'm saying that “a friend of John's” means not “a friend of John” (with the possessive sense of the preposition), but “one FROM [the set of] John's friends”, (where “of” in this case means “selected from”).
Tromboniator, yours is a good example but it has the same answer: “A friend of me” uses the possessive “of” and has the same meaning (barring the implied article) as “my friend”; but “a friend of mine” implies that I have more that one friend and this is one of (that is, one FROM) them.
But does anyone actually say, “Come over here, I want you to meet a friend of me.”? I've never heard it. It's always “a friend of mine.” Let's try some different interpretations: “a friend of John” is someone who considers John to be a friend (“You may hate me, but I am your friend.”), regardless of John's feelings, whereas “a friend of John's” is definitely someone John likes. How about “Nancy's picture”? Does it belong to her, or is she in it? “A picture of Nancy” probably has her image, but “a picture of Nancy's” clearly belongs to her, whatever it may look like. I don't think it implies anything about how many pictures Nancy has, only ownership.
By the way, American Heritage Dictionary says the “double genitive” construction (a friend of John's, a friend of mine) dates to the fourteenth century. If this (double genitive) interpretation is correct, then it's the same possessive of, so I wouldn't necessarily infer one from. Of course, they could be wrong, and it could be a matter of personal interpretation.
We had some of this discussion before:
But I do hear from time to time “You”re not the boss of me!”
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