I just have a question about the possessive case of noun. In my understanding, we use "of" to describe the possesive for nonliving things, like "in the bar of the hotel" not "the hotel's bar". We use "'s" to describe the possesive for living things, like "men's body" not "body of men".

But I don't know how could I describe the possesive for many people. For example, there are 5 people, and each of them has a foorball. What I should use "the five people's footballs", "footballs of the five people's " or "five footballs of the five people's". What if I want to describe that the teacher has stored all the 5 footballs. Can I say: "The teacher has stored all the footballs of 5 people's (they are Tom, Jerry, John, Lee, and Laura)."

Thank you

  • 1
    Hi Jin. Might I recommend ELL? You may find more useful answers there :)
    – Dog Lover
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 10:25
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    Leaving aside the usage of 'case', (a) 'The car's rear offside wheel' is idiomatic (quite acceptable). The 'rule' you give is too broad-brush. (b) 'Men's body' doesn't make a lot of sense. (c) The attributive usage ( 'the hotel bar') is often the most idiomatic choice (d) the choice between the Saxon and the Norman genitive is often idiosyncratic ('The Return of the King').// 'The five people's footballs' is grammatical but sounds unnatural. 'The footballs belonging to these five people' sounds about the best one can do. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 11:47
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    Attributive genitives can in fact be used with non-human nominals as in: a glorious summer's day; a Sainsbury's catalogue and so on, though descriptive gentives like these are a somewhat unproductive category, as your "the hotel bar" (not "the hotel's bar") example demonstrates. "The teacher has stored all of the five people's footballs" seems reasonably acceptable.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 12:13
  • Please give a usage example. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 18:07
  • @G. Ann - SonarSource Team Who are you asking, and an example of what?
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


As noted in comments: both "of" and "'s" can be used to express a range of ideas related to possession with both animate and inanimate nouns.

  • one week's work
  • children's clothes (meaning clothes for children)
  • the car's exhaust
  • the hotel's bar

Similarly "the body of a man" is quite correct (though it suggests a corpse).

are all acceptable.

In the case of a group "The five people's footballs" is correct. Similarly "the three dogs' dinners" (note the placement of the apostrophe). "Footballs of the five people" is also correct (no 's after people). However these are a bit of a mouthful, and an alternative is often possible.

In your example

  • "The teacher has stored each person's football" (note singular "person").
  • Or "The teacher has stored the football of each of the five people".
  • Or "... each of Tom, Jerry, John, Lee, and Laura."

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