In the coursebook 'New Round-Up 3' by Virginia Evans, Jenny Dooley and Irina Kondrasheva (Pearson, 2010) I have come across a title "A Day in the life OF a Farmer'.

Michael Swan in his fully revised 'Practical English Usage' (third edition, OUP, 2013) says that 'we use the 's structure most often to talk about possessions, relationships and physical characteristics, especially when the first noun refers to a person or animal, or to a country, organisation or other group of living creatures'.

My question is: will it mean the same if we used 's with it?

  • 2
    A day in the life of X is something of a fixed pattern... I would try to avoid rephrasing it.
    – user230
    Oct 28, 2014 at 16:55
  • 1
    Swan's 440.1 has this note: "An of-structure is preferred when the 'possessing' is very long". Oct 28, 2014 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote the novel: Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича.

It has always, to my knowledge, been translated as:

A) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

which, as others have already answered, is perfectly natural and idiomatic in English. A day in the life of is indeed quite common, so common it can be considered a fixed phrase.

Else, you would have:

B) One day in Ivan Denisovich's life, or even, word-for-word, One day of Ivan Denisovich's.

which do not have the same ring (rhythm) or zing (energy) to it. The idiomatic title (A) has a rhythm to it and English has a certain rhythm, or series of stress points, built into it. One can clap one's hands to many English sentences. And if the choice is between a title or construction that is rhythmic and one that is lesser so, a wise publisher will go with the former.

Else, you also have:

C) A Day in a Farmer's Life.

Which sounds just so bland in comparison to the 'normal' way of formatting the phrase. It is so uninteresting a title (and phrase) that I might not even look at the book if I had the choice of others to look at.

In other contexts, the pattern could stress whose thing, for example, whose answer it is:

If I say, (D) rogermue's answer, I am using the name as an adjective and thus am not really calling attention to the fact that it is (E) the answer of rogermue, which somewhat calls attention to the fact that rogermue (and not someone esle) wrote the answer.

Last, notice the definite article in the preferred phrases (B) and (C) and the specialized phrase (E): the adds a certain punch in the phrase. We know we are talking about a specific life or a specific answer. It is hard to explain what the little the does there, except to say that perhaps we all prefer to read about the life or read the answer rather than about a life or so-and-so's life or so-and-so's answer.

  • 1
    The "the" implies "You only live once", which changes the assumption of "these are things the _____ must do" to "these are things the _____ chooses to do because they are important to him (or her)", which implies that the _____ is an important person, and that the people the ______ interacts with are important because they are important to the ______.
    – Jasper
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:28
  • I hasten to add that, as the saying goes, this answer stands on the shoulders of the giants that answered and/or commented before me. (And not, the giants' shoulders).
    – user6951
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:50

In case OP (or anyone else) might not be aware, I'll just say that 's used with it gives the contracted form it's (short for it is). Unlike all other such usages, the possessive its (of it) has no apostrophe.

There's a tendency to use [noun]'s more often with "animate" subjects, and of [noun] more often with inanimate subjects. But it's nothing more than a tendency - the rule's exceptions are so common it makes no sense to think of it as a "rule" in the first place.

There aren't many contexts where it's possible to draw a distinction between 's and of, but here's one...

1: The king's painting
1a: His painting
2: The painting of the king

...where without further context we've no way of guessing whether #1/1a refer to a painting belonging to the king, or depicting him. All native speakers would normally assume the second meaning for #2, but it's not obvious to me there's any underlying general principle involved - as with the it's, its distinction referred to above, these are things you just have to learn by rote.

As @snailboat comments, a day in the life of X is something of a "fixed pattern" - though it's worth noting that "a day in the life of [pronoun]" would be very unlikely compared to "a day in my/your/his life".

And as @Damkerng T. comments, an of-structure is preferred when the 'possessing' is very long. But again, that's only a preference. Nothing prevents us using 's for longer subjects, which can even be "cascaded/nested", as in my husband's brother's wife/house/etc.


That the s-genitive is preferred with persons and the of-genitive with things is a general rule and in the first years of learning English you have the impression this rule is true. But later you will find out that it is not as easy as that.

You will find the of-genitive with persons as in The reign of Queen Elizabeth and the s-genitive with things as the ship's cat.

And you have to make an amendment to the general rule: Even if the s-genitive is most common with persons this s-genitive can be changed in an of-genitive.

Of course, you can study sometimes why a s-genitive is preferred. "Tom's bike" simply is considerably shorter than "the bike of Tom". On the other side "Huckleberry's Adventures" would be possible but it can't match the rhythm of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn".

  • 1
    I don't have a thespian background (we could use @StoneyB's input on this one), but it's not obvious to me that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a more preferable rhythm/prosody than Huckleberry Finn's Adventures. As with Tom Brown's Schooldays, I think it's just that we naturally "resonate" more with the version we've heard most often. Dec 12, 2014 at 20:19

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