I found this in a grammar book:

Wrong Sentence - All the candidates felt that this year's question paper was too easy.

Right Sentence - All the candidates felt that this year the question paper was too easy.

Is "this year's question paper" really wrong, and if so, why? What makes "this year the question paper" better?

Is there a rule here about constructing possessive sentences?

  • Why do you think the first version is "wrong"? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 1 '14 at 15:19
  • I don't. I found this in a grammar book.And the book does..I was really confused because I couldn't find any error.. – TzD Apr 1 '14 at 15:29
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    I can't imagine why any "grammar book" should say that - but it's complete rubbish, so I'd suggest you disregard everything in that book, or you may end up knowing less than you currently do, rather than more. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 1 '14 at 15:36
  • Please, what is the grammar book? Is it the same grammar book which you referred to here? – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 16:05
  • Yes both questions are from the same book.. – TzD Apr 1 '14 at 16:15

All the candidates felt that this year's question paper was too easy.

There is nothing wrong with this sentence as it stands. This year's question paper is an ordinary noun phrase, with this year's acting as its determiner. That is idiomatic in even the most formal writing: this year's paper is the paper in use this year.

All the candidates felt that this year the question paper was too easy.

There is nothing wrong with this sentence, either, but it is not in any way superior to the first sentence. The difference is that this year is deployed as a modifier to the entire subordinate clause rather than just its subject. That means that paper now lacks a determiner, which is supplied with the.

There is, by the way, no such thing as a 'possessive sentence'. Nouns and pronouns may be possessive, but not sentences.

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  • I edited the last examples but I'm still a bit confused about how this year's question paper is equal to this year the question paper. It's entirely different I feel. – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 12:58
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    @MaulikV The two are different - I define the difference above. In one, this year's identifies which paper is too easy. In the other, this year tells when a particular paper is too easy. You infer that the same paper is meant in both instances; but the sentences do not express that. Just for instance: the second sentence might mean "We have set the same paper every year, but this year we have such outstanding candidates that it is too easy; they will all score 100% and we will not be able to declare a winner." – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 13:05
  • I have noticed many in your answers you talked about non idiomatic English.I don't understand what do you mean by idiomatically unexceptionable..And where can I find more about that?? – TzD Apr 1 '14 at 14:56
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    @DamkerngT. Why on earth do they do so? I can see no reason to do so, except as a 'baby rule' to forestall common novice errors - and this quiz item seems to be for students too advanced for that rule to be called upon. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 15:32
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    @TzD Absolutely, yes. In theory you can extend it indefinitely, but Sam's brother's wife's aunt's granddaughter's cat's kitten's dish will at some point lose your reader :) – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 16:03

All the candidates felt that this year's question paper was too easy - it's too general. Which question paper of this year? It could be any question paper of this year (Math, Economics, Science, Social Studies...).


All the candidates felt that this year the question paper was too easy - makes better sense as they are talking about one particular paper (Math) of this year.

Even if there's only one paper in the year, it's better to use the as it ensures about that particular paper.

We can generally drop the article the if talking about the thing in general. Adding the definite article will emphasize that you are talking about that particular thing.

For example,

To think about the happiness of people (i.e., people in general) was important to him (no article).

To think about the people's happiness was important to him (with article, the people of nation/society etc.).

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    With a possessive (this year's, people's), however, the definite article is prohibited: the possessive acts as a definite determiner, so a definite article is superfluous. The people's happiness is permissible only if you are speaking of the happiness of the people, not of people in general. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 12:38
  • @StoneyB But where did you find these in my answer? Am I missing something? – Maulik V Apr 1 '14 at 12:43
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    This year's paper talks about a particular paper in the same way and to the same degree as the paper does. And in your final sentence, the people does not mean a particular group of persons -- it means all the people, the nation or electorate or population considered as a whole. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 1 '14 at 12:51
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    @StoneyB: I think you're mistaken about the people there. Without the article, thinking about people's happiness just means people in general, all people. But when it's included, this almost certainly implies some subset of "all" people (as Maulik says, the particular nation/society/tribe relevant to the context). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 2 '14 at 13:04

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