4

The human's brain works better in the morning.
The human brain works better in the morning.

Which is the correct sentence and why?

  • 1
    the human's brain == the brain of the human (as said by zombies chatting) -- the human brain == the brain of humans (as a species) – blue Sep 10 '15 at 12:18
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    To amplify on blue's comment. I would say that, by saying, 'the human's brain', the zombies are discussing one particular human - maybe one they are keeping captive for consumption later. They are not talking about humans in general. – chasly from UK Sep 10 '15 at 12:35
8

I think you could say it either way, but you'd want to switch articles:

A human's brain works better in the morning.
The human brain works better in the morning.

The latter uses "the human brain" in the general sense, as @MaulikV explains in his answer. The former talks about a person's brain in the indefinite sense.

I think the latter would be more appropriate for scientific contexts, yet the former is acceptable in casual conversation.

The format with the indefinite article also requires a possessive; consider:

The strongest muscle in the body is a leg.
The strongest muscle in the body is the leg.

Here, the indefinite article doesn't sound right. However, we can fix that with a possessive modifier:

The strongest muscle in the body is a person's leg.

  • I agree. I think the OP would want to write either A human's brain or the human brain. On the other hand, I think it could be useful (for the OP) to know that the human's brain can also be used when the context allows it. I posted an example under Maulik's answer: The human's brain works better in the morning, and the dolphin's brain the evening. Does it sound plausible (grammatically)? – Damkerng T. Sep 10 '15 at 9:12
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    Hmmm. That might be confusing. I didn't realise my leg was a muscle! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 10 '15 at 10:00
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    @Araucaria - LOL - I figured someone would make that comment – and almost changed my example sentence because of that – but this isn't Biology.SE, and I felt the sentence would work well enough from a grammatical perspective. Still, if it really nags at you, feel free to make an edit, and change "leg" to "quadriceps femoris" (or, alternatively, simply add the preposition in after the verb is). In any event, at least I didn't say it was the tongue. :^) – J.R. Sep 10 '15 at 13:22
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    @DamkerngT I think "Human brains work better in the morning, and dolphin brains in the evening" sounds better. "The human's brain..." seems to mean that you are talking about one specific human and one dolphin. Of course that might be what you meant, if you were writing a scientific paper describing how you compared the brains' performance. – alephzero Sep 10 '15 at 14:16
  • @alephzero - Interesting. I like it best with in the singular with the definite article: The human brain works better in the morning, and the dolphin brain works better in the evening. It's a matter of style and taste, though. I'd be hard-pressed to deem any of these options "ungrammatical." – J.R. Sep 10 '15 at 15:12
5

An extraterrestrial might say

"Bleep blop blippity boop". (translation: The human's brain is meager.)

But here on earth we say

The human brain is a marvelous organ.

Human is really an adjective acting nominally acting adjectivally.

With "real" instance nouns, we'd use the possessive:

The giraffe's neck is very long.

not

The giraffe neck is very long. [not idiomatic]

  • 1
    Or, interestingly enough, this works, too: A giraffe's neck is very long. – J.R. Sep 10 '15 at 15:47
2

Irrespective of the fact stated, the latter sentence is correct.

The human brain works better in the morning

Since you are not specifying a particular human, and talking about the human organ in general, it does not take the possessive 's.

Most of the textbooks I have read as a healthcare provider defines 'The human [organ name]'. For example - "The human heart pumps blood..." or directly mentioning the organ if you are studying about the human organs as in "The ear has external...."


More reading on 'The + possessive' is here.

  • 1
    But note that the thing about the definite article not being used only applies when the possessor is a proper noun (like a person's name). Since "human" is a common noun, the definite article is required: "the human's brain" is grammatical (but not idiomatic in this context) while "human's brain" by itself would be outright ungrammatical. – sumelic Sep 10 '15 at 8:00
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    The rule with possessive nouns is that the possessed noun never has an article before it, but the possessor always gets an article if appropriate (the if the possessor is a definite common noun, a if it's a singular indefinite common noun, and no article if it's a plural indefinite common noun, or if it's a proper noun.) – sumelic Sep 10 '15 at 8:03
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    Yes, true. Other cases where it's possible is when a proper noun has 'the' in its title or in a special case as mentioned there 'The President's leg' @sumelic – Maulik V Sep 10 '15 at 8:24
  • I agree with sumelic. "The human's brain" is not necessarily ungrammatical. I think it's fair to say that it's not idiomatic in this context, but it could be just fine in uncommon contexts. For example, consider, if I were an extraterrestrial being came to earth to study living species, I might write in my report: The human's brain works better in the morning, and the dolphin's brain the evening. (I don't claim that's the fact, BTW!) – Damkerng T. Sep 10 '15 at 9:10
  • The human heat pumps nothing. You probably meant the human heart. However, I lack the reputation to make such "trivial" edits here. – a CVn Sep 10 '15 at 12:50
1

Generally speaking you'd use "the human brain", as in "The human brain is one of nature's marvels". Only in the case where you're speaking about the brain of a particular human would you use the other form - for example

Two aliens are discussing the recent discovery of Earth after dinner.
"It's so wonderful to have discovered Earth", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"There's so much we can teach them", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"So much we can learn from them", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"So many possibilities", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"Billions and billions of them!", cried the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"And I thought it was a lovely dinner", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"To be fair, I didn't think much of the steak", said the first alien.
"Oh, yes - indubitably!", said the second.
"But I thought the human's brain was delicious", asked the first alien.
"Oh, yes! Indubitably!", said the second, fastidiously cleaning drops of ichor from his mouth-tentacles.

:-)

0

Both the human’s brain and the human brain are grammatical (that is, we could not say either is incorrect), but they mean different things. In this sentence, you probably mean the human brain.

The phrase the human’s brain means the brain that belongs to the human, where the human must be some specific human that is already being discussed. This is an unlikely statement except in fantasy or science fiction, where non-humans may be speaking about some human. So in this case, the refers to the human, not to the brain.

The phrase the human brain means the type of brain found in humans. In this case, human is an adjective, a modifier on brain, specifying that the brain is a human one. The definite article the also refers to this brain, but out of context there are two ways it could be understood:

  • This may be some specific human brain we are discussing. Say a scientist is studying a tomb where a man was buried along with his dog: if he’s talking about the state of their brains, he might refer to them as the human brain and the dog brain, meaning the specific brain from the buried man and the specific brain from the buried dog.

  • This may be a general statement about the human brain, that is, the concept of the brain found in humans. This is by far the most likely intent.

  • RE: The phrase 'the human’s brain' means 'the brain that belongs to the human', where 'the human' must be some specific human that is already being discussed. Not necessarily so. See TRomano's example: The giraffe's neck is very long. That's totally acceptable, and not necessarily referring to some aforementioned giraffe. Remember, the word the can also be used for a generalized reference to something, which is the circumstance behind this statement alleging when a human's mind works best. – J.R. Sep 10 '15 at 15:52
  • @J.R. For whatever reason, I agree that this works for giraffe but I think it's "wrong" (would not be used) for human. – KRyan Sep 10 '15 at 16:02
  • I agree with you there: the giraffe's neck sounds fine but the human's brain sounds off. Perhaps that's because we're accustomed to hearing the word human being used adjectively ("the human ear, the human voice, the human condition," etc.), whereas we don't hear words like giraffe being similarly used in such contexts. So maybe it's not the word the that throws us off, it's the word human's, which is, perhaps, "needlessly possessive"? – J.R. Sep 10 '15 at 19:27

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