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Possessive as antecedent to another possessive
Grammatical correctness of possessive as antecedent.
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2013/09/08
8:28pm
Robert
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Much wrangling had been done over the grammar of  possessive being antecedent to pronoun (Winston Churchill's history shows him to have been a good writer).
 
What about possessive serving as antecedent to another possessive? Is that good grammar?
 
Winston Churchill's history demonstrates his literary genius.
Indeed its reputation as a judge of literary worth is a publisher's most valuable asset. (Kidder, 'Good Prose')
Janet's vanity is her worst personal fault.

 

2013/09/09
5:22am
Glenn
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Sally's dog ate her homework.
Richard's mother gave him lunch.

According to many, it's all good grammar. Linguists refer to this issue as possessive antecedent proscription (PAP). I pretty much reject PAP as a proscriptivist construct similar in nature to the split-inifinitive prohibition.

Even if you buy in to PAP, proscriptivists couldn't ever reject the use of a possessive pronoun with a possessive antecedent. So "Sally's dog ate her homework." has always been good, even to the proscriptivists. They don't claim that the sentence declares the dog to be female and an academic whiz. But "Richard's mother gave him lunch." could provoke a tornado of red ink.

Here is an excellent treatment by Erin Brenner. It also has excellent references for further reading.
Copyediting Tip of the Week: Macbeth's mind

2013/09/09
7:17am
Robert
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Regarding your comment 'So "Sally's dog ate her homework." has always been good, even to the proscriptivists.'
 
Is that because of the matching types: possessive-possessive ?
 
I am afraid matching types won't satisfy the more insistent of proscriptivists:  Their point is first and foremost based on  'Sally's dog' being a noun phrase from within which only 'dog' (and not 'Sally') can make any claims to the outside world. Accordingly then, a possessive, being thus buried deep inside, can not serve to illuminate anything outside of that noun phrase, much less with concerns over what word type.
 
I am only trying to speak to the proscriptivist point though.
2013/09/09
1:19pm
Glenn
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The position you describe, while possible and consistent within itself, does not reflect the majority of writing in support of PAP. I have not seen a description (proscription) that failed to allow the possessive pronoun to refer back to a prior possessive.

This is the way Geoffrey Nunberg paraphrases PAP:

The assumption behind the rule is that a pronoun has to be of the same part of speech as its antecedent. Since possessives are adjectives, the reasoning goes, they can't be followed by pronouns, even if the resulting sentence is perfectly clear.

The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar and Politics

Arnold Zwicky writes (correctly), citing numerous examples:

6. … Violations of the PAP are frequent, even in the work of careful practiced writers (including the authors of manuals that insist on the PAP), and they go unnoticed.
….
6.1 Barron's test preparation manual (Ehrenhaft (1998)) … It cares about the PAP so much … But once Barron's gets into extended analysis of particular essays …

6.2. Lunsford & Connors (1999:216), in their excellent handbook, … refer to a “convention” for “maintaining clear pronoun references” … But back on p. 29, when they're giving advice,

6.3 Menand (2003) criticizes CMS15 for failing to mention the PAP. But Menand is jam-packed with violations …

Toni Morrison's genius puts her in the grammar/usage spotlight

I don't think that PAP deserves any more writing except such writing as points out how destitute of merit and ill-begotten PAP is.

2013/09/09
4:46pm
Robert
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Wow slow up.  I agree enough, even too much, already about PAP.  And yes maybe even 'destitute of  merit.'  But 'ill-begotten' seems a little too harsh.   I think that its root is very fundamental and instinctive and reflexive of human thought, and thus very valid at that base level.  Only in practice that it becomes sort of, well, impractical, and a drawback.
That explains why the most ardent subscribers to it will not follow strictly:  I  will do something a little shy of perfection here, but there are more worthy purposes to think about.
2013/09/11
3:08pm
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So, PAP is pap.

2013/09/17
6:24am
Robert
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But PAP refers to only one instance of the general 'notional' application. The following statement is an example of where unguarded 'notionalism' has led to outright sloppiness:
 
The of is often criticized as superfluous, a comment that is irrelevant because off of is an idiom.
 (Quoted from merriam-webster.com's definition of the phrase 'of off')
 
Analogous to the PAP objection,  the word  'comment' above notionally refers to some phantom thing such as might be 'criticism.'   But unlike the PAP examples, this one is outright sloppy work by merriam-webster.com.
 
So my point is still : PAP is not specious, made up out of nothing, but is rooted in the reflex to spot sloppy dictions, specifically those as might claim notionalism as justification.
2013/09/17
6:58am
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I am understanding you Robert and thought pap was quite apt. While it is often applied to food that is lacking in merit, the food can still fill the belly.

2013/09/28
1:00am
RobertB
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Where grammar is not the problem, the mode of referencing might raise a logical conundrum: this from p. 108 of Tracy Kidder's 'Mountains beyond Mountains':
 
He'd also learned how to design and manage both a public health system and a clinic,…, among people whose government had kept them illiterate…
 
In this construction,  'people'  needs to be defined, which is accomplished with the phrase  'whose…them…'  Unfortunately this phrase nonetheless refers back to 'people':  a circular logic- an entity referencing itself.
 
(It seems as though the word 'them' was put there to address or alleviate this problem, but merely with the result that it stands out as superfluous.)
 
One way out of this conundrum is to say that the references in question are only part of a more complete description to be found elsewhere in the larger context, that is, the entity 'people' is not required to be completely defined within the sentence before itself being referenced.  But there it is: language often comes out slightly less than perfect.
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