1

I got this quiz:

The carpenter repaired __ .

(A) the table's legs

(B) table's legs

(C) legs of the table

(D) the legs of the table

...which says the right answer is D. But I think A is also acceptable.

What do you think? Thanks.

Related but not a duplicate: Which is correct, “The carpenter repaired the legs of the tables” or “The carpenter repaired legs of the tables”

If I add an option E: the table legs, is E also acceptable?

2
  • 1
    There is a common belief that you cannot or should not use the possessive 's with inanimate objects like "the table", but there is no such rule: it is fine to use the possessive 's with inanimate objects. – stangdon Jul 13 '18 at 11:40
  • E is fundamentally different from A, C and D in that with the loss of the definite article, the carpenter is no longer repairing a particular table but potentially (and also by implication) several. – Paul Childs Jul 13 '18 at 12:02
3

At first glance, I think most native speakers would agree with you, and say that both A and D are pretty much interchangeable. However, books like yours generally have a reason for making a distinction like this.

In this case, I think I've found it. From the Capital Community College's web page on possessives, we find:

Many writers consider it bad form to use apostrophe -s possessives with pieces of furniture and buildings or inanimate objects in general. Instead of "the desk's edge" (according to many authorities), we should write "the edge of the desk" and instead of "the hotel's windows" we should write "the windows of the hotel." In fact, we would probably avoid the possessive altogether and use the noun as an attributive: "the hotel windows." This rule (if, in fact, it is one) is no longer universally endorsed.

My guess is that your textbook is either somewhat dated, and was originally printed when this "rule" was more widely applied, or else the authors thought it would be worth making this distinction even if the rule is no longer universal.

That's likely why D is considered a better answer than A. I'm curious, though: Do the directions for this set of problems say to choose the "correct answer", or say to choose the "best answer"? Sometimes two answers can be correct, but one can still be justifiably preferred over the other.

Of course, in cases like this, textbooks would be much more helpful if the reasoning was listed in the answer key, instead of just telling readers that the answer is D without saying why.

Getting back to your question, you said:

I think A is also acceptable.

and I lean toward agreeing with you. But I think your book is also correct in that D is probably the "best" option of the four that are available, even if many native speakers sometimes ignore the rule about possessives and furniture. And you are definitely right about your Option E; in fact, the website even suggests this might be the best way to write it: The carpenter repaired the table legs. But that wasn't an option in the question.

2
  • It's 'choose the correct answer'. Thank you, sir. – 尤慕李 Jul 14 '18 at 0:14
  • The idea that [something] of [something] is correct when (and always when and only when) used with inanimate objects is not a rule that has softened over time, but is rather a grammar myth, a prescriptivist dictum, a confusion of formality with grammaticality. Consider The Symphony No. 5 in C minor of Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 67 as the work is formally named in Wikipedia, compared with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Neither is new. – Jim Reynolds Dec 8 '18 at 20:50
1

Answers A and D are both correct. Neither is better than the other.

In the context of the quiz B and C appear to be wrong because the article the (or a), which is expected, is missing.

However, as J.R. points out below, there are contexts in which the article can be omitted.

English speakers would frequently talk about table legs in the same way that they talk about table cloth but, while the former is idiomatic, it's informal.

2
  • 1
    I'm not sure that I buy the rationale for B and C being wrong; I think the sentence can be written without an article, particularly in the plural. We had three repairmen at the house yesterday. The roofer replaced damaged shingles. The plumber fixed faucets and pipes. The carpenter repaired table legs. (Granted, that example doesn't match B or C, which I think would sound awkward. But I think there's something else at work here besides "the article is necessary [but] is missing.") – J.R. Jul 13 '18 at 10:12
  • @J.R. Fair comment! In the context of the quiz I think only A & D would be accepted by the examiner. But one couldn't argue with your examples. – Ronald Sole Jul 13 '18 at 10:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.