A long time ago a user asked a question on EL&U with the following title:

Meaning of a Jane Austen's fragment in this letter

Another user edited it, dropping the 's, turning the title into the following:

Meaning of a Jane Austen fragment in this letter

The question is, why has a user corrected the original question title dropping the 's?


2 Answers 2


Skip the Austin part:

He had two options to fix it. Either of these can be right:

Meaning of Jane’s fragment

Meaning of a Jane fragment.

But this is never correct: Meaning of a Jane’s fragment.


The first one means she owns it. Does she own the fragment? If so, we would say, “Meaning of Jane’s fragment” not “a Jane’s”.

But if the fragment is about her, “Jane fragment” is an adjective.


In this case, the noun phrase a fragment [of text] can be modified attributively:

a short fragment an isolated fragment a Jane Austen fragment

However, it cannot be modified by a possessive determiner for two reasons:

  1. First, it contains the determiner a, which occupies the central determiner slot. The possessive determiner occupies the same slot, so the two cannot go together:

Jane Austen's fragment
*a Jane Austen's fragment

  1. Second, the repaired phrase Jane Austen's fragment conveys the wrong meaning (a fragment that belongs to Jane Austen).

Because the the above are ungrammatical and infelicitous respectively, the only recourse left to the reader is to reinterpret the phrase as [a Jane Austen]'s fragment. This has the same problem as 2 above, but has the additional problem of converting Jane Austen to a common noun, which is only felicitous in specific contexts (see here for details).

All credits for this answer go to Snailboat


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