Sometimes when I write, for example, "the boundaries of segments", I am suggested to use "segments' boundaries" or even "segment boundaries".

Or "the page's content" vs. "the content of the page" vs. "the page content". Then I would like to know is it always preferred to use phrases with apostrophe or adjective?

For example

In our terms, they are mainly textual elements within the page content, which serve as the starting point of a data region (or a data region's starting point ?) or a distinctive feature within it

  • Have you looked through existing answers for similar questions? It seems that in my brief time here I already encountered a discussion on possessive vs noun as adjective. – Victor Bazarov Aug 26 '15 at 21:06

Nouns in possessive case, genitive case, and attributive noun-noun constructs can look similar, some can be substituted for one another, can even have very similar meaning, yet they do differ.

In most case, at least as I understand it, genitive case (noun1 of noun2) can often be expressed by "noun2 noun1" construct, in which noun2 plays the attributive role. For instance,

A lover of dogs (a person who admires canines) -->
A dog lover (dog is attributive)


An engine of a car (that hunk of metal under the hood) -->
A car engine (car is attributive)

Proper nouns can be attributive ("Moscow streets" = "streets of Moscow" "Canada geese", although not "geese of Canada").

Possessive case is used to indicate exclusive ownership (of an instance or of a class), authorship, etc.

Newton's laws of physics
Ferma's Theorem
Obama's presidency
StoneB's answer to your question on ELL

As far as your question goes, if we take the two specific examples, we see that

a data region's starting point -- is completely the same as
the starting poitn of a data region

because every data region has the starting point, and that point has only one responsibility - to start the data region, so it's exclusive to data regions in general and to each data region in particular.

You could say

a data region starting point

in which case "data region" becomes attributive, which describes the starting point, but in your situation I think it is less desirable because, first, hard to judge to what the indefinite article applies (a data region? a starting point?), and second, it implies that there can be several "starting points" and one (or maybe several) have the attribute "data region". In reality it's a data region in which you're probably interested foremost.

Let's look at page content. You can say

the content of the page -- that would be the same as
the page content

and everybody knows that you're talking about content whose main (for now anyway) attribute is that it represents a page. It doesn't belong to it, though, according to that phrase. But what if you write

the page's content -- is that so wrong?

No, it's perfectly alright because the content cannot belong to anything but the page (of which it is the content). So those three are interchangeable, I believe.

As to "segment boundaries" and "segment's boundaries" (no, "segments boundaries" is non-grammatical), there is a difference in meaning. The former means "boundaries between segments" whereas the latter mean "boundaries of a single segment" (its own boundaries, not necessarily involving other segments).

Knowing the terms now (Possessive/Genitive Case, Attributive noun) you can find more information on those online, like on Wikipedia on elsewhere.

  • Thank you, then you mean in each case one of them is preferred? for example "page content" to the others? and in possessives if there is no emphasis I think apostrophe is more common. right?! – Ahmad Aug 27 '15 at 6:06
  • There is no general rule like that. Every case is different. – Victor Bazarov Aug 27 '15 at 12:28
  • This is not a rule by any means, but in my own writing I avoid using 's with inanimate nouns. Just personal preference. – Azor Ahai Aug 27 '15 at 15:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.