Tema 39- El sustantivo: el género y el número. La expresión de la posesión. El genitivo

Tema 39- El sustantivo: el género y el número. La expresión de la posesión. El genitivo


The grammatical category of number requires that every noun form be understood grammatically as either singular or plural.

1. Singular relates to the quantity “one” for count nouns, to the unique referent for most proper nouns (Tokyo) and to the undifferentiated mass for noncount nouns

2. Plural relates to the quantity “two or more” for count nouns, to the unique referent for most proper nouns (The Azores) and to individual operational units that are seen as reflecting plural composition (binoculars, goods).

The distinction between singular and plural is not always clear-cut. F.i: there is vacillation over words such as: politics, mumps, data, criteria.

Plural formation:

The vast majority of English nouns are count, with separate singular and plural forms. The singular is the unmarked form and the plurals are formed in a regular and predictable way:

A. In sound: It is the same pronunciation for plurals, Saxon genitive, short forms of is and has and third person singular.

1. Add /iz/ if the singular ends with a sibilant: /s/, / S/, /t S/, /z/, / Ʒ/, /dƷ/ f.i: /praiz/ /praiziz/, /koli dƷ/ /kolidƷiz/

2. Add /z/ if the singular ends with a vowel or with a voiced consonant other than a sibilant f.i: /dei/ /deiz/, /bed/ /bedz/

3. Add /s/ if the singular ends with a voiceless consonant other than a sibilant f.i: /kaet/ /kaets/

B. In spelling: With the vast majority of nouns, we simply add –s to the sing. F.i: horse/horses. But for many nouns the –s rule requires amplification and modification:

1. If the singular ends with a sibilant that is not already followed by –e, the plural ending is –es: box/boxes

2. If the singular ends with –y, this is replaced by –I and the plural ending is –ies: spy/spies. But –y remains and the plural ending is –ys if the sing. ends with a letter having vowel-value as in ay, ey, oy (days, ospreys, boys) or if the item is a proper noun (the two Germanys)

3. If the singular ends with –o, the plural is usually regular (pianos), but with some nouns the plural ending is –es (potatoes, tomatoes) and in afew cases there is vacillation (buffalo(e)s, volcano(e)s).

Irregular plural formation:

1. Voicing: Several singular ending in /f/ and / Θ/ undergo voicing when forming its plural

– Knife-knives /naif/ /naivz/

– Mouth-mouths /mauΘ/ /mauđz/

Like knife are calf, half, leaf, life, loaf, self, shelf, thief, wife and wolf.

Like mouth are bath, oath, path, sheath, truth, wreath, youth.

2. Wowel change: In a small number of nouns, there is a change of vowel sound and spelling (mutation plurals) without an ending

– Child-children

– Foot-feet

– Louse-lice

– Mouse-mice

– Goose-geese

– Man-men

– Tooth-teeth

– Woman-women

3. Zero plural:

a) Words for some animals. The nouns sheep, deer, cod while being unquestionably count, have no difference in form between sing and plural.

Nouns referring to some other animals, birds, fishes can have zero plurals, especially when viewed as prey (woodcock, pheasant, herring, trout, salmon, fish).

b) Nouns of quantity. There is a strong tendency for units of number, length, value and of weight to have zero plural when premodified by another quantitative word.

– Almost four million people live here

– My son is nearly six foot tall.

4. Foreign plurals: Numerous nouns adopted from foreign languages, especially Latin and Greek retain the foreign inflection for plural. In some cases there are 2 plurals, an English regular form which is used in non-technical discourse.

a) Nouns in –us /Əs/ with plural –i /ai/ (stimulus)

b) Nouns in –us /Əs/ with plural –a / Ə/ (genus-genera, corpus)

c) Nouns in –a /Ə/ with plural –ae /i:/ or /ai/ (nebula, formula)

d) Nouns in –um /Əm/ with plural –a /Ə/ (curriculum, erratum)

e) Nouns in –ex, -ix /Əs/ with plural –ices /isi:z/ (appendix, index)

f) Nouns in –is /is/ with plural –es /i:z/ (basis, crisis)

g) Nouns in –on /Ən/ with plural –a / Ə / (phenomenon, criterion)

h) Nouns in –o /Əu/ with plural –i /i/ (tempo, virtuoso)

i) Nouns from French sometimes retain a French plural in writing and ending in speech as a regular English one: bureau- bureaux/ bureaus / Əu/ or Əuz/, also plateau, tableau

There are singular nouns that cannot ordinarily be plural and plural nouns that cannot ordinarily be singular.

Ordinarily singular:

1. Proper nouns such as London, Navratilova etc.

2. Noncount nouns such as cheese or solidarity

3. The noun news and other items ending in –s: nouns in –ics (physics), names of diseases (mumps, shingles), words for some games such as billiards, dominoes.

4. Collective nouns such as committee, council, government, team.

Ordinarily plural:

1. Binary nouns are those that comprise 2 parts: tools and instruments such as binoculars, scissors, articles of dress such as jeans, trousers, pants

2. Aggregate nouns are those that refer to entities which comprise or may be perceived as comprising an indefinite number of parts (data, goods, media, outskirts). Many aggregate nouns are not plural in form: cattle, clergy, offspring, people, police.


In English, gender is not a feature of nouns themselves, rather it relates directly to the meanings of nouns, with particular to biological sex. The wh-items who and which oblige us to distinguish 2 broad gender classes: personal and non personal. Within the personal gender class, the personal and reflexive pronouns relate to male and female sex.

– Please help my husband. He has hurt himself.

– Please help my wife. She has hurt herself.

A. Nouns with personal reference: These are commonly in male and female pairs such as

– Father-mother

– Boy-girl

– King-queen

– Brother-sister

– Uncle-aunt

– Nephew-niece

In some cases, the female member is morphologically marked:

– God-goddess

– Hero-heroine

– Usher-usherette

– Prince-princess

With widower-widow it is the male that is marked.
Many personal nouns can be regarded as having dual gender since they can be male or female f.i: friend, guest, parent, person.

By contrast, common gender applies to those nouns like baby, infant, child which though referring undoubtedly to male or female human beings make gender so irrelevant that w can use the neuter pronoun it(s).

– The baby lost its parents when it was 3 weeks old

The remaining class of person-referring nouns is collective, where like the common gender nouns, the sex of the persons concerned is irrelevant as is shown by our use of it ad which.

– The committee, which met soon after it was appointed, had difficulty in agreeing its method of procedure

Countries and ships are often treated as female:

– France is increasing her exports

– The Lotus sank when she struck a reef

B. Nouns referring to animals and inanimates: Among animals, we must distinguish between what we may call the familiar and the less familiar:

1. The familiar embrace the range of animals, birds etc. in which human society takes a special interest and which impinge on familiar experience: many of the nouns for these occur in male and female pairs, as with personal nouns, often with he-she as the reference pronoun, though usually with which as the relative.

– This is the bull which has a brand mark on his /(its) back.

Other such pairs include dog-bitch, ram-ewe, stallion-mare, hen-cock and there are some with morphological marking as in lion-lioness, tiger-tigress.

2. Less familiar animals constitute by far the majority of creatures in the animate world. Squirrels, ants, starlings and moths may be referred to as he or she, but for the most part they are treated grammatically as though they were inanimate.

– Do you see that spider? It is hanging from the beam.


As distinct from pronouns, English nouns have only 2 cases: the unmarked common case and the marked genitive.

A. The genitive inflection phonologically identical with the regular plural inflection with a consequent neutralization of the case distinction in plural.

– One /kauz/ tail was waving

– All the /kauz/ tails were waving

With irregular nouns where no such neutralization can occur, a fourfold distinction is observed.

– The /maen/ was watching

– The /maenz/ car was locked

– The /men/ were watching

– The /mezn/ cars were locked

B. Ortographically the genitive is always spelled with an apostrophe: before the ending for the singular, after it for the plural.

– One cow´ s tail

– All the cows´ tails

Singular name ending in –s usually have possessive forms in ´s

– Denis´ s new job

When modification is a group genitive, it is avoided in favour of the of-construction

– The name of the man in the dark suit.

The genitive of a singular noun is pronounced like a plural ending: /iz/, /z/, /s/. In being phonologically identical with the plural, the regular genitive plural is called the zero genitive. It is common with classical names that end in /z/: Socrates, Sophocles, Oedipus, Tacitus, Euripides

– Socrates´ doctrines /ti:z/

The genitive and the of-construction:

We frequently find a choice between using a premodifying genitive and a postmodifying prepositional phrase with of. The similarity in meaning and function has caused the latter to be called by some the of-genitive.

– There were strong objections from the island´ s inhabitants/ the inhabitants of the island

But for the most common part we must select either the genitive or the of-construction.

Genitive meanings:

1. Possessive genitive: Mr. Johnson´ s coat (Mr. Johnson owns a coat).

2. Genitive of attribute: The victim´ s outstanding courage (the victim was very courageous)

3. Partitive genitive: The heart´ s two ventricles (the heart contains two ventricles)

4. Subjective genitive: The parents´ consent (the parents consented)

5. Objective genitive: The prisoner´ s release (released the prisoner)

6. Genitive of origin: England´ s cheeses (The cheeses were produced in England)

7. Descriptive genitive: Children´ s shoes (The shoes are designed for children)

8. Expressions of time and distance:

– A mile´ s walk

– A year´ s salary

Gender and the genitive:

The genitive is not used with all nouns equally but tends to be associated with those of animate gender, especially with those having personal reference.

– The dog´ s name

– The committee´ s decision

Geographical names take the genitive inflection, especially when they are used to imply human collectivity.

– China´ s policy

The grammatical status of the genitive:

1. As determiner: Genitives function like central definite determiners and thus preclude the cooccurrence of other determiners

– Joan´ s new briefcase (*The Joan´ s new briefcase)

This equally applies when the genitive is a phrase incorporating its own determiner.

– My cousin´ s new briefcase

In other words, items preceding the genitive relate to the inflected noun

2. As modifier: Where the genitive is used descriptively, it functions not as a determiner but as a modifier with a classifying role. Determiners in such noun phrases relate not to the genitive but to the noun following it

– They attend a women´ s university in Kyoto

The independent genitive:

It is common to ellipt the noun following the genitive if the reference is contextually clear:

– Jennifer´ s is the only face I recognize here (Jennifer´ s face)

By contrast with the of-construction, that or those usually replaces the corresponding item

– The wines of France are more expensive than those of California

A special case of the independent genitive occurs when the unexpressed item refers to home or business. It is the local genitive.

– My butcher´ s stays open till late on Fridays

The post-genitive or double-genitive:

Since the genitive must be definite, if there is more than one of sth. we can use 2 constructions each involving a partitive of-construction.

– One of George´ s sisters is coming

– A sister of George´ s is coming

Nouns as adjectives:

Nouns can be used as adjectives for 3 main reasons:

1. To indicate the kind of thing: an apple tree

2. To indicate the use to which it may be put: a teacup (a cup for tea).

3. To indicate the place you would normally expect to find it: a garden seat (the kind of seat designed for and found in a garden).