I notice that in some cases people skip the 's in the possessive case. But I cannot understand what rule they use.

For example:

  • attribute declaration, but not attribute's declaration or declaration of attributes
  • pet cemetery (name of the book), but not cemetery of pets.

Explain please how should I do it correctly?

  • "Pet Cemetary" is not the name of a novel (as far as I know.) There is a Stephen King novel entitled Pet Sematary, however. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 21:54

3 Answers 3


The Saxon genitive (as we call the use of an apostrophe and the letter s to denote possession) is not skipped or omitted in the usages you cite.

Instead, the nouns attribute and pet are used as noun adjuncts or attributive nouns to modify the nouns which they precede.

Some other common examples are:

  • rose bush
  • chicken soup
  • pocket watch
  • horse farm

There is a Wikipedia article on the noun adjunct here. (Note that the article is in the process of being improved to reflect modern linguistic terminology; however, it does explain the concept succinctly.)

  • 1
    Argh, that Wikipedia page needs editing . . . By the way, noun adjunct isn't really a current term in linguistics. Linguists tend to say attributive noun, in my experience.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:26
  • @snailplane Someone, then, has a great deal of work in store: this search and this one show the apparent depth of received ignorance. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:45
  • Well, it's a good answer :-) And the Wikipedia page is better than it used to be, thanks to Araucaria, though the section on adjectival nouns still mistakenly implies that "using an adjective as a noun" is the "opposite process" – the article still confuses category with function.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:46
  • @snailplane Ewww, you're right about that "opposite process" business. That's a stinker. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:49

Your two examples do not show possessives, but instead show noun adjuncts – nouns which modify other nouns and change their meaning. Consider:

attribute declaration
an instance of an attribute being declared (by someone)

attribute's declaration
a declaration made by an attribute

declaration of attributes
a thing (e.g. form/sheet) which declares attributes, or a declaration made by multiple attributes

pet cemetary
a cemetary in which pets are buried

cemetary of pets
a cemetary owned by pets, or made of pets as a material

There's no rule (that I'm aware of) that states how noun adjuncts are used or interpreted, and it tends to come down to convention (the widely-accepted meaning of a particular noun and set of adjuncts). For example, the following are all modifications of line but there is no consistency in meaning (other than that a length of some material is involved in some way):

clothes line
a string on which wet clothes are hung to dry

telephone line
a wire down which a telephone signal is transmitted

railway line
a portion or length of track in the rail system


There isn't a correct way as such, it is more dependent on what you want to mean.

So "pets' cemetery" is a cemetery that is of pets. Pets' is the genitive, sometimes called the possessive, and it means that in some sense the cemetery belongs to the pets, although not necessarily in the way we usually imagine ownership.

However, "pet cemetery" is a cemetery involving pets. So instead of telling us about "ownership" of the cemetery, it talks about the cemetery itself. Pet in this instance is an attributive noun (also called a noun adjunct). It works a lot like an adjective.

So you use the genitive/possessive when you want to describe some kind of possession of or close association between two (or more) things. E.g.

  • "A knight's tale" (a tale about a knight)
  • "All the king's men" (all the men loyal to the king)
  • "Jesus' disciples" (the disciples of Jesus).

You use an attributive noun when you want to describe one thing as an attribute of another. E.g.

  • "Dog house" (a house for a dog)
  • "Coffee creamer" (creamer for coffee)
  • "Plug socket" (a socket for a plug)

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