I was given a test, and asked to complete this sentence:

On many college campuses, the study of film has become ________ .

With one of these five choices:

A. as common as that of the novel
B. like the novel, as common
C. common, as is that of the novel
D. as common as the novel's study
E. just as the novel's study is common

I picked choice D, but was told the correct answer is A. Can someone explain why?

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    there is alotta effort put in it, i want help not snide comments
    – Bernard Akoto
    May 3, 2015 at 13:04
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    @BernardAkoto Attitude is rewarded in kind. If you're pleasant with us, you'll find us warm and welcoming with you. I promise. Also, it's worth considering that you're on a site full of people who love English and pay attention to the details of how it is used, e.g. capitalization, punctuation, use of formal vs informal register, etc: these are all things we notice, and take great care of in our own writing. To that end, I've gone ahead and edited your question to improve its overall formatting, which will influence its reception. You can use it as a model for further questions and comments.
    – Dan Bron
    May 3, 2015 at 13:21
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    There's a difference between "the novel's study" and "the study of the novel". If D had said "... the study of the novel", it would also have been correct. May 3, 2015 at 13:32
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    I think this question would be better received at English Language Learners. May 3, 2015 at 13:51
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    There is nothing actually 'incorrect' about option D. It is just that in my own opinion A is better because it avoids repetition of the word study.
    – WS2
    May 3, 2015 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


Usually genitives in -'s and preposition phrases headed by of mean pretty much the same thing; but when these modify nouns which are derived from active verbs or have an active sense there is usually a distinction:

  • A genitive designates the Subject/Agent of the underlying verb

  • An of PP designates the Object/Patient of the underlying verb.

For instance, in analyzing Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus we might write about

the novel's study of artistic genius

Here we mean that the novelsubject studies artistic geniusobject.

Consequently, your D and E imply incorrectly that the study is performed by the novel, while A and C imply correctly that the study is performed upon the novel, just as other study is performed upon film.

It's not a hard-and-fast rule. A verb-derived noun which in context may be understood to express a passive meaning, in which the Subject is the Patient acted upon, may take a genitive expressing the Subject/Patient.

We're celebrating John'ssubject/agent completion of his novelobject/patient = John has completed the novel
We're celebrating the novel'ssubject/patient completion = The novel has been been completed

  • I was with you all the way, but then how about "the novel's completion" ?? (You've still got my +1, becuase I'm certain you,ve got a good answer:) May 3, 2015 at 14:06
  • @Araucaria: A novel can be in a state of completion, so the issue of agency isn't relevant there, and thus the possessive is OK. We can say the novel's publication but not (not really) the novel's publishing. Agency comes back into the picture with the -ing form.
    – TimR
    May 3, 2015 at 14:55
  • @Araucaria I think Tim Romano nails it -- that's what I meant by an 'active' meaning. I confused grammatical and thematic functions. I'll fix. May 3, 2015 at 17:51
  • Compare 'The cooking of tilapia is now as common as the cooking of ling' with ??/*'Tilapia's cooking is now as common as ling's'. It's not idiomatic to substitute the Saxon genitive for the of-phrase in all circumstances; it's certainly the patient-referencing of-phrase (ie re the undergoer rather than the doer) that resists here ('Tilly's cooking is now every bit as good as Lana's' is fine). May 3, 2015 at 18:26
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    @EdwinAshworth I was very confused by your comment until I realized that tilapia and ling are fish, not cooks :) May 3, 2015 at 23:50

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