I came across this New York Times headline:

University of Texas Basketball Coach Faces Felony Domestic Assault Charge

Shouldn't there be a ('s) in this construction like, "University of Texas's Basketball Coach Faces Felony Domestic Assault Charge"?


4 Answers 4


There's no need for "'s" in that headline.

"University of Texas" is a noun phrase, and here it directly modifies "basketball coach" to form a compound noun. We understand from the context that it means a basketball coach who works at the University of Texas.

  • 3
    There's also the issue that "Texas" already ends with an "s", which makes the word "Texas's" look a bit awkward. If you were to pick another state, e.g. "University of Georgia", the "'s" might be more commonly seen in that context. Dec 15, 2022 at 14:18
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    @DarrelHoffman With the 's, it means the university has only one basketball coach. The original does not mean this. While it may end up being correct as the university may have only one basketball coach, there is a difference in meaning between "U of G basketball coach" and "U of G's basketball coach". The 's functions like the definite article "the".
    – gotube
    Dec 15, 2022 at 18:04
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    @gotube Particularly at large universities I believe having multiple coaches (or one head coach and >= 1 assistant coach) is quite normal, and there could also a a Men's coaching team and a Women's coaching team.
    – Hellion
    Dec 15, 2022 at 20:20
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    The possessive 's can also imply "all", especially when it modifies a plural noun - compare "StackExchange programmers" (some, but not necessarily all, of the programmers who work for SE) vs. "StackExchange's programmers" (all of the programmers who work for SE).
    – minnmass
    Dec 15, 2022 at 21:51
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    @DarrelHoffman: The possesive for Texas would be Texas'. For words ending in an "S", the possesive is formed by adding the apostrophe only.
    – JRE
    Dec 16, 2022 at 10:56

This is in Headlinese, which often omits words with little semantic content.

Your amended form is still Headlinese. A fuller form (such as you might expect to find in the article under the headling) might be:

A University of Texas basketball coach is facing a domestic assault felony charge.

or even more fully:

A basketball coach from the University of Texas is facing a felony charge of domestic assault.

(I might have the last bit wrong: we no longer have felonies in England, so I don't know whether "felony" goes with the charge or with the assault).

University of Texas's basketball coach is possible, but it suggests that there is only one basketball coach there, even in Headlinese.

  • 2
    "Felony" is like "misdemeanor" or "infraction" - it's a noun. You can use it as an attributive noun with either the charge or the assault.
    – Kevin
    Dec 14, 2022 at 22:50
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    How does headlinese factor into this? You mention it in your first two sentences, but I don't see a connection between it and the question or answer.
    – gotube
    Dec 15, 2022 at 18:09
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    In the US, a felony is any crime that has a minimum punishment of at least one year in prison. It's technically possible to commit a felony assault, though normally it would be referred to as something more specific, like "assault with a deadly weapon", instead. Dec 16, 2022 at 13:59

As Colin Fine brings up, this is an example of maximally-terse writing. (People of my generation think of headlines in print newspapers, which could make each letter bigger and more eye-catching the shorter they were, but that might be as obsolete as its previous association, telegrams that charged by the word.)

Normally, the entire noun phrase, “University of Texas Coach,” would require a specifier, such as:

A University of Texas Coach was ahead of his time.

[T]he University of Texas coach who played with Altobelli at Houston, beamed at the long-overdue honor for a friend [....]

[The new member of the Hall of Fame] was inducted by his University of Texas Coach.

One exception to this is when we put someone’s job title before their name, for example:

University of Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is observing Rams practice.

It would be possible to say, “The University of Texas’ coach,” but this is so rare I was unable to find an example on the Web. I would guess this is because the University of Texas has many coaches.


Firstly, if a word ends in s, the genitive suffix is only ' not 's, so it would be University of Texas' Basketball Coach not University of Texas's Basketball Coach.

But, the original spelling and punctuation are correct, because it is a compound noun.

Compound nouns are quite common in English:


a type of food (that is already a compound noun itself, but with non-obvious etymology)

hotdog restaurant

a restaurant that serves hotdogs

hotdog restaurant owner

The owner of a restaurant that sells hotdogs

even though "hotdog restaurant" is a noun phrase, it can still modify other nouns: "hotdog restaurant waiter", "hotdog restaurant customer", "hotdog restaurant ice cream machine". It means that we are talking about hotdog-restaurant kinds of waiters, customers, or ice cream machines (i.e. the type of waiter, customer, or ice cream machine that is to do with a hotdog restaurant; in this case, these compound nouns will probably be understood to mean that these things belong to the restaurant, but that doesn't always have to be the case: see ice cream machine repairman: it is clearly not a repairman that belongs to the ice cream machine, but is the type of repairman who works on ice cream machines).

You can think of the first noun in a compound noun to function similarly to an adjective: "good man", "grass man" (maybe means a man made of grass)

University of Texas Basketball Coach is understood to mean a basketball coach that belongs to University of Texas. Interestingly, University of Texas' Basketball Coach means the basketball coach that belongs to the University of Texas (the possessive in English implies that the owner only owns as many of those things as specified). You'd have to say One of the University of Texas' basketball coaches to get equivalent meaning to the headline's.

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