Reading Scholem's historical writings along with his letters to Benjamin, we begin to understand the depth of his reaction to the latter's leftward turn.

Could you please clarify to me why there is an apostrophe in the word "latter". Does this mean the same as to his (Benjamin's) latter leftward turn? To tell the truth I am not familiar with the usage of the apostrophe in adjectives. Is it standard in English? Based on the same pattern we can write/tell: John broke the window. I am really upset by terrible's behaviour (by his bad behaviour) which is probably nonsense.

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    The Saxon genitive 's is because the latter is a substitution for ...his reaction to Benjamin's leftward turn. – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '16 at 17:03
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it was based on the OP's now-resolved misunderstanding that latter was being used as an adjective. See OP's comment – Jim Reynolds Feb 15 '16 at 5:22

I am not familiar with the usage of the apostrophe in adjectives.

In this case, latter is not an adjective. Latter here is a noun:

latter noun

the latter (pl. the latter) the second of two things or people mentioned

  • He presented two solutions. The latter seems much better.

In this context, the latter is a noun phrase meaning Benjamin, so the latter's means Benjamin's.


"Latter" in your case is a substitution for whatever was the latter of the two people listed (and that thing is a noun; in this case, Benjamin) mentioned beforehand. Dictionaries don't cover this usage.

Thus you can use the possessive marker "-'s" on "latter" because it is filling in for a noun (Benjamin).

Same goes with "former" when used to contrast with "latter".

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    Thank you for your answer. In that case I misunderstood the meaning of the "latter" since I understood it in the sense "later". But your reading of the passage confuses me a little bit. You are writing that "the latter" substitutes Benjamin but isn't it actually "letters to Benjamin" what is substituted? The first mentioned thing is his political writings and the second letters to Benjamin… – bart-leby Feb 10 '16 at 19:07
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    "The latter" almost always refers to a person. I'm not sure why, but that does seem to be the case. Also, interpreting "the latter" as "the letters to Benjamin" doesn't make sense - Scholem had a reaction to his own letters' leftward turn?! – stangdon Feb 10 '16 at 19:30
  • @stangdon I may fix that soon. – Nihilist_Frost Feb 10 '16 at 19:36
  • That's the reason why I interpret the latter's as what happened late, i.e. Benjamin's later turn to the left. – bart-leby Feb 10 '16 at 19:36
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    @bart-leby: antecedents can be semantic; they don't have to be strictly on the grammatical level. John's parties are fun and Mike's parties always have great food, but I prefer the former's friends. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 10 '16 at 20:06

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