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As a German willing to learn the English rules for apostrophes, I am confused about using it for possessives because I don't know what is exactly a possessive. Is it only for objects which someone owns or is it also if I just "have" something, or I borrow or rent something and for abstract things.

So, can you tell me, which of the following are possessives and which aren't?

  • Morgan's house is red.
  • Morgan's appartement, which he bought last year, is red.
  • Morgan's appartement, which he rents since last year, is red.
  • Morgan's love is endless.

migrated from writers.stackexchange.com Mar 27 '14 at 20:00

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  • Hi. This seems like it would fit better on English Language Learners (grammar questions aren't a good fit for Writers). I'll migrate it for you. (But meanwhile, they're all possessives; Morgan has possession of the house, apartment, and love, regardless of ownership. With luck the folks on ELL can flesh that out more.) – Monica Cellio Mar 27 '14 at 19:59
  • I'm curious. Aren't these all possessives in German as well? I thought they would be. – BobRodes Mar 27 '14 at 20:35
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    A couple of corrections to your English that you may find useful: "Appartement" translates "apartment". Also, you probably hear things like "Morgans Appartement, denn er seit dem letzten Jahr gemieten hat, ist rot." from English speakers. It probably sounds as funny to you as "rents since last year" sounds to us. Correct in English is "which he has rented (or has been renting) since last year". An event that began at a specific time in the past and is ongoing uses present perfect. The present tense is only used without any specific time relationship: "He rents an apartment from me." – BobRodes Mar 27 '14 at 20:50
  • @BobRodes Yes, from a grammatical perspective, there's no difference between English and German. – Em1 Mar 27 '14 at 22:07
  • @BobRodes: In German we don't use apostrophes for possessives and thus I never needed to know about them. – Konrad Höffner Mar 28 '14 at 9:03
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Monica is right - they're all possessives.

Possessives dont need to denote ownership. "Morgan's house" may mean the house he owns, rents, is building, has painted on a piece of paper, is designing as an architect, etc etc. "Morgan's book" could mean the book he wrote or is writing, bought and now owns, borrowed from the library, etc etc. In fact, in some specific cases it could even mean the book that Morgan is talking about (e.g. if Morgan and Jack each suggested buying a different book for the school library - in such a case, "Morgan's book" will refer to the fact that it's the book that Morgan supports buying).

One way you could try looking at possessives is to see them as a type of modifier - they're obviously not adjectives, but they do let you specify which house, which apartment, which book, or whose love you're talking about.

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