30 Sep 2014

Saxon genitive ('s) or of + noun?

B2, C1

"Saxon genitive ('s) or of + noun?... that is the question."

Choosing between the Saxon Genitive ('s) or the structure "of + noun" can sometimes be difficult. Below I include all the factors that influence the choice. I'm sorry if the explanation is a bit too technical, but it's the only one there is...

To start with, it is important to note that there are lexical, syntactic, communicative and relational factors influencing the choice between the Saxon genitive and a prepositional phrase (of).

  • Lexical factor (related to vocabulary)
When the possessor is a person, the genitive is preferred, e.g. John's boat.
  • Syntactic factor (related to grammar)
If the noun has a very long modifier, we prefer the of-construction, e.g.
The answer of the student who was sitting next to the window
(NOT The student who was sitting next to the window's answer).
  • Communicative factor, depending on where we want to lay emphasis:
The world's economy --> emphasis on economy.
The economy of the world --> emphasis on the world.
  • Relational factor (related to the relation between the words)
- Partitive meaning: the of-construction is preferred --> A glass of water; a pint of beer

- Object relation: it favours the of-construction: The imprisonment of the murderer  (they put the murderer in prison - object)

- In subject relations both are equally used: the arrival of the train / the train's arrival (the train arrived - subject).

Well, I hope this explanation has been useful!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!


  1. Thanks Ana! It has been very useful. :)

    1. I'm glad to hear that, María Luisa!
      I hope you find the blog interesting!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yes Ana, your blog is really helpful :)