Germanic possessive -s

An empirical, historical and theoretical study


Follow the link below to enter the database:

The corpora

The possessives database consists of the possessive constructions found in two corpora of spoken language:

Each possessive construction found in the two corpora has its own record, in which information about the nature of the example is listed.

Information about the example

At the top of each record, information about the example’s location in the corpora is given, and the entire sentence or utterance in which the example occurred is given. In most cases the whole sentence is included; extraordinarily long sentences are truncated (truncated sentences are marked as such).

Example ID

BNC examples: file, sentence number, unique identifier in database

BNC example J32 327 2 occurs in text J32 in sentence 327 and is the 2nd example from that sentence in that text. (Note that the unique identifiers do not necessarily correspond to the order in which the examples occurred in a sentence; rather, they correspond to the order in which the examples were taken into the database.)

GSLC examples: recording number.

Unlike the Spoken BNC, transcriptions in the GSLC are not split into lines or sentences; no artificial line breaks were made in the database. More information about the individual recordings (beyond the information incorporated into the database in Column 1) is given on the GSLC corpus browser, registration required; to see the kind of information available, see the Sample Transcriptions.

The large field below the Example ID field contains the entire sentence in which the possessive construction occurs. The default view for the BNC examples shows the sentence without tagging. Click on tagged to see the sentence with tags; in this view, extra information from the BNC on the example is also visible (BNC Header Information: information on the nature of the situation in which the example occurred, information on the speaker who produced the example). Clicking on untagged returns to the default view.


If you have access to the software BNCweb through your institution, set the home page of your installation of BNCweb via the link at the foot of the page. Then for any BNC example, clicking on the BNCweb URL link will take you to that example in the BNC with all the viewing and processing advantages of BNCweb.

Below the sentence field, the screen is split into four panels:

  • General information about the whole example
  • Possessor and Possessum
  • BNC speaker info
  • BNC header info

Further information

Geog origin:
British, Swedish
BNC: Spoken: formal (more information available in tagged view). GSLC: Spoken
BNC: 1994 (date of most recent data in corpus). GSLC: year of recording
Genitive type:
poss-s (e.g. John’s hat); of possessive (e.g. the aim of the government) (BNC only); double possessive (e.g. this hat of John’s) (BNC only)
Measure possessive:
e.g. half a day’s journey (BNC: F72 0117 1), fifty seven thousand pounds’ worth (BNC: JK9 153 1)
A pause, filler, repetition or general hesitation anywhere in the possessor or possessum, e.g. my hu husband’s inevitable lots and lots of papers (BNC: J8G 598 1), the city council’s er criterion (BNC: J9T 1079 1)
Further information on some examples. Often the information in the notes field relates to a single example and is self-explanatory.
The following is an alphabetical list (with definitions where necessary) of the most frequently recurring terms which may be useful when searching for particular types of example:
Co-ordinated group:
two or more NPs in one possessor, e.g. George and Martha’s name (BNC: JST 065 1), the positive role of relatives and friends (BNC: J9L 323 1)
Contains parenthetical:
e.g. the outer case of you know the tyre (BNC: D97 1276 1), a tendency I I hope not of er this management team(BNC: F7A 0656 2; also contains hesitation)
Double marking:
e.g. someone’s else’s name (BNC: KDW 4332 1)
Pronoun possessor:
e.g. any internal calls of mine (BNC: KS6 272 1), the middle of that (BNC: JP1 0383 1)
Proper noun:
e.g. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (BNC: KRE 357 1), the Straits of Gibraltar (BNC: FLX 087 2)
Pplit possessive:
postmodification of possessor NP placed after possessum, e.g. the gentleman’s name with the tape recorder (BNC: FM7 0008 1)

Possessor and possessum

The fields at the top of the columns contain, respectively, the text of the possessor NP and the possessum NP.

body part
collective human
inanimate abstract
inanimate concrete
Length words:
length of NP in words (excluding initial of in possessors in of possessives and double possessives)
Length syllables:
length of NP in syllables (excluding initial of in possessors in of possessives and double possessives)
(possessor only) Number of words postmodifying (i.e. standing to the right of) the head of the possessor NP (e.g. the leader of the council’s shirt = 3)
definite or indefinite
singular or plural
discontinuity in the possessive NP, e.g. directors’ and your particular erm, fees in particular (BNC: HM6 104 1)
(possessor only) one of several (usually two) possessors sharing a possessum (e.g. John’s and Mary’s house) (? coordinated group, e.g. John and Mary’s house)
Final sound:
(possessor only) showing whether a possessor has a final sibilant