1. He sat at the feet of his professor.

  2. He sat at his professor's feet.

I found the expression "sit at sb's feet" in Oxford dictionary and I found the expression "sit at the feet of sb" in The free dictionary by Farlex. I've read both and it seems they are the same.


If it's a literal statement, I would say both are equally common, and equally valid. In some "metaphoric" usages, such as...

1: He learned at the feet of the master
2: He learned at the master's feet

...the first version is far more common. Probably because the more verbose form adds a touch of "gravitas" (makes it sound more formal). But in more "homely" contexts, such as...

3: He learned at his mother's knee
4: He learned at the knees of his mother (or knees)

...those second forms are virtually unknown. So I would say only use the possessive apostrophe in these constructions when it's an informal/personal context.

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  • Oh, good tip. I didn't know that using the possessive apostrophe was an informal usage. Could you tell me if saying these expression with "knees" is the same as "feet"? – Dragon Buster Mar 13 '13 at 23:04
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    @DragonBuster It's a different image: a child will lean on its mother's knee, but a student will ordinarily sit at a decorous distance from a master. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 13 '13 at 23:07
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    I wouldn't say possessive apostrophe is always (or even markedly) informal, but I think the usage figures in those 4/5 links do indicate that it's a consideration. Mostly, it's just that we usually use the apostrophe with actual parts of people - so #1 is "atypical", which is what makes it a bit "special/respectful/reverent". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 13 '13 at 23:10

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