Thursday, May 7, 2009

Look over at

By invitation, I offered a list of my top ten blogs on language and editing — a selection that should not astonish anyone who has been grazing in this pasture.

But I am just one of a number of people who have been invited to submit such lists on various topics. The Internet is such a wilderness — some tall trees but a great deal of scrub intermixed with patches of poison ivy — that a guide is always welcome. Rummage around over there to see what sites you may find useful. There’s a link to the Top 10 Lists in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Make sure you come back here.

Puzzling possessives

A few days ago a reader wondered about the construction pork producers’ and Israelis’ objecting to. Why apostrophes?

The use of a possessive with a gerund (the present participle of a verb functioning as a noun) is common in English. So is the use of a non-possessive noun. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage finds that both forms have been examined and faulted or endorsed over a long span — and that it is quite common for an author to switch from one to the other. So of these two possibilities —

I can’t stand his creeping up behind me while I’m working

I can’t stand him creeping up behind me while I’m working

you get to use whichever you like. Another step to reduce usage anxiety!

If the possessive with a gerund makes you step back, you may also be put off momentarily by the double possessive, or double genitive. That is a construction in which possession is indicated twice, by a possessive form and the word of. One refers to a friend of mine rather than a friend of me. (You can also say a friend to me, though it will probably sound stilted to many listeners or readers.)

The construction has an ancient pedigree in English, and Merriam-Webster’s explains its function in reducing ambiguity by distinguishing between an objective genitive and a possessive genitive. Here’s how: Jane’s picture can mean a picture belonging to Jane or a picture of Jane. Saying a picture of Jane’s — the double genitive — distinguishes the former sense from the latter.