Possessive pronoun antecedent . . .

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri May 5 23:30:27 UTC 2006

On May 3, 2006, at 5:55 AM, Charlie Doyle wrote:

> Anymore, I doubt if most teachers regard the possessive-
> antecedent construction as ungrammatical.

i don't think you were around for the last run-though on the PAP,
which was several years ago, but there definitely are teachers who
proscribe possessive antecedents.  a few preparation handbooks for
standardized tests drill students relentlessly on it.  most advice
books never mention it, though.

a sad situation.

>   Still, as a
> purely stylistic matter, I just HATE it when students (or
> colleagues or publishing scholars) write something like, "In
> Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address' he said . . . ," instead
> of "In the [or his] 'Gettysburg Address' Lincoln
> said . . . ."

well, yes, we talked about that too.  these are especially inept when
the sentence is introducing Lincoln as a salient discourse referent;
the problem is that the relevant word, "Lincoln", is too backgrounded
syntactically (it's a modifier of a noun within a sentence modifier)
to do the work it should be doing.

examples like this improve enormously if Lincoln is already
foregrounded in immediately preceding context.

but it would be wrong to ban possessive antecedents just because they
can be used ineptly (not that you're suggesting that).  if we started
doing that, we might just as well prohibit people from writing or
speaking at all.


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