by Tom Fasano
Nouns have Number, Gender, and Case.
Number is that aspect of a noun designating whether one or more objects is indicated.
(1) The Singular Number indicates one object only: as, cat, lake, woman.
(2) The Plural Number indicates two or more objects: as, cats, lakes, women.
The plural number in most cases is formed by adding –s or –es to the singular: as spoon, spoons; glass, glasses; house, houses; fax, faxes.
Gender is that property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the sex of an object.
There are three genders: Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter.
(1) The Masculine Gender indicates a being of the male sex: as, man, son, father, Anthony.
(2) The Femine Gender indicates a being of the female sex: as, woman, lady, sister, niece, hen, sow, Sophia.
(3) The Neuter Gender indicates an object of no sex: as, tree, rock, carton, city.
Some inanimate objects are often spoken of as if they were feminine. For example, a ship is often spoken of as she; automobiles and trains are also occasionally referred to as she. Sometimes in poetry celestial objects, such as the moon, are referred to as she; the sun, as he. These uses are chiefly colloquial or poetical. In ordinary prose, especially in science, all these words are treated as neuter nouns, with the exception of ship, which stubbornly retains its feminine reference.
Case is a property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the relation of the noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence.
Nouns have three cases.
(1) The Nominative Case is the case used for the subject of a verb or in the predicate noun.
The politician spoke with emphasis.
The boy is an athlete.
(2) The Objective Case is the case used for the object of a verb or preposition.
The farmer built a fence.
He drove across the country.
(3) The Possessive Case is the case that denotes possession.
This is the gentleman’s hat.
Forms. The three cases have the following forms.
The Nominative and the Objective Cases. The nominative and objective cases of a noun have the same form. Thus there can be no confusion in the use of those two.
The Possessive Case. The possessive case of a noun is marked by the use of an apostrophe (’).
(1) The possessive case of a singular noun is regularly formed by adding an ’s to the end of the noun: as, woman’s, mayor’s, girl’s.
(2) The possessive case of a plural noun is formed:
(a) By adding an apostrophe to the simple plural, when the plural ends in s: as, dogs’ (simple plural, dogs), girls’ (simple plural, girls).
(b) By adding ’s, as in the singular, when the simple plural does not end in s: as, women’s (simple plural, women), children’s (simple plural, children).
In a few singular nouns that end in s or an s-sound (like ce) add only an apostrophe, as in the plural: as, Moses’ story, Jesus’ crucifixion, for conscience’ sake. This is especially true when, as in the preceding examples, other s-sounds precede or follow. Use of the regular ’s in such instances is not, however, incorrect.
(3) In compound nouns or in titles or in names having a unit idea, an apostrophe (’) or an apostrophe s (’s) is added to the last member of the group: as, mother-in-law’s, the Prince of Wales’, the Queen of England’s.
The possessive case usually denotes possession.
John’s car was stolen.
A crowd occupied the city’s square.
Sometimes the possession indicated is of a modified type. For example, in the expressions “Einstein’s theories” and “Wordsworth’s poems,” Einstein and Wordsworth are the possessors only in the sense that they are the theorists or creators. Compare the two kinds of possession indicated in the following sentence: “This is David’s copy of Wordsworth’s collected poems.”
Some cases of possession indicate a lack of ownership entirely: a day’s work, a year’s salary, the law’s delay. These mean “the work of a day,” “the salary for a year,” “the delay of the law.”
A noun in the possessive case is usually equivalent to a phrase beginning with of. For example, we may say either “Hardy’s poems” or “the poems of Hardy”; “the governor’s mansion” or “the mansion of the governor”; “the President’s agenda” or “the agenda of the President.”
We would not, however, say “the car of Johnny” for “Johnny’s car,” or “the law of Murphy” for “Murphy’s law.” When making such distinctions in usage, the student must be guided by his or her ear for what sounds correct.
As a general rule the possessive case is not used with inanimate objects. A phrase with of is used in its place: thus, “the cover of the book” (not the book’s cover); the branches of the tree (not “the tree’s branches”). There are, however, several exceptions to this rule: time’s delay, ship’s mast, earth’s surface, tree’s fruit, etc.
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Fasano.
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