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Grammar Question- Possessive Nouns

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My DS is having a hard time understanding why possessive nouns are classified as nouns rather than adjectives. I can't explain it myself except to say they are just called nouns because they are.




Sara's dog is cute.


DS insists that in this sentence, "Sara's" is absolutely functioning as an adjective that modifies dog. The sentence is about the dog, not Sara, and Sara's is only there to show what kind of dog.


Of course, he knows that "Sara" is a noun, and he knows that "Sara's" is a possessive noun, but he wants to identify it as an adjective based on its function in the sentence in the same way that he would identify the verb "running" as a noun when used as a gerund.


I told him I would ask "the experts" why he should identify them as nouns. We use MCT and the answer key always calls them nouns. I have let DS call them adjectives because he really wants to, can explain himself, and I don't feel like fighting, but I want to be sure he can get the question correct if he's tested. To be honest, I'm inclined to identify them as adjectives myself since I was taught to diagram them the same way as adjectives when I was in school.

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Possessive nouns perform a similar function to adjectives by describing a noun, or giving information about a noun.


1.  A PN can indicate ownership:


The car of my mother = my mother's car



2.  A PN can indicate origin or purpose:


Shakespeare's plays = plays by Shakespeare  (not plays possessed by Shakespeare)

Ladies' room = room intended for women's use  (not a room owned by a group of women)



HTH   :)

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I think it is because it is the dog of Sara so when you diagram it, Sara is a noun.  I'm no grammar expert though so following!

I would diagram it like this:

Dog | is |cute



Does that make sense? It's hard to format it here. I haven't really diagrammed since 9th grade, however, so I could be off.




That just confused me more. I'm starting to think that MCT is wrong. Either possessive nouns should be called determiners and neither adjectives nor nouns, or they are best described as adjectives. DS will do a happy dance if I can tell him he's correct and MCT is wrong. It has annoyed him for years.

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"Possessive determiners constitute a sub-class of determiners which modify a noun by attributing possession(or other sense of belonging) to someone or something. They are also known as possessive adjectives.[1]"




I don't think it's hugely important what you call it, as long as you understand the way it is used in English, which he obviously does.


They modify nouns, can be modified themselves by adverbs, etc., so I think their role as an adjective is a fair argument.  


"The words myyour, etc. are sometimes classified, along with mineyours etc., as possessive pronouns[3][4] or genitive pronouns, since they are the possessive (or genitive) forms of the ordinary personal pronouns Iyou etc. However, unlike most other pronouns, they do not behave grammatically as stand-alone nouns, but instead qualify another noun – as in my book (contrasted with that's mine, for example, where mine substitutes for a complete noun phrase such as my book). For this reason, other authors restrict the term "possessive pronoun" to the group of words mineyours etc. that substitute directly for a noun or noun phrase.[5][6]"



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This is an area of grammar that has two distinct "sides." One side calls them nouns, and one side calls them adjectives. Both sides are correct. In this instance it is a glass half empty, glass half full situation. Is the important part the person of ownership? If yes, the dog is of Sara - possessive noun. Or is the dog self owning and merely described by its relationship to Sara - determiner as possessive adjective.


Neither is wrong. It is one of the wonderful ways that specificity of language tells us so much about the speaker. It is their worldview sneaking in.

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I've learned that one of the noun usages (or jobs performed by nouns) is a Possessive Noun Adjective and have been taught to diagram a word according to its function in the sentence, rather than by its part of speech.  Therefore, I think your son is right in calling "Sara's" an adjective in this instance. I'm open to the possibility that I'm wrong, however.


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"Sara's" is functioning as a possessive adjective modifying "dog" and would be diagrammed that way. In the phrase "the dog of Sara," "Sara" is a noun functioning as the object of the prepositional phrase "of Sara", which in turn is functioning as an adjective phrase modifying "dog." 

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