When to be possessive?

Interacting with many people expands students vision and broadens their horizons.

This is a tricky one! There are many exceptions to the guidelines that follow. First of all let’s compare the following noun phrases:

  1. students vision
    plural noun + noun – is not possible. It is grammatically incorrect.
  2. students’ vision
    plural noun + possessive + noun is possible, meaning particular vision – the vision of the group of students under discussion. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘animate’.
  3. student vision
    singular noun + noun – is also possible, meaning a kind of vision – ‘student vision’ as opposed to, say, ‘teacher vision’. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘inanimate’.

Returning to our opening example, meaning 2 would appear to be the most appropriate:

  • Interacting with many people expands students’ vision and broadens their horizons.

Notice also that we now have a parallel structure with two clauses containing possessives – expands students’ vision, broadens their horizons.

Nominalisation yin and ‘yang’

In a previous post I showed how you can avoid relative clauses when you’re post-modifying nouns. This is especially useful in IELTS Task 1 writing where you have to modify a statistics word (number, amount, etc.) to include information from the axes of a graph, or from the labels attached to a chart, or from the column and row headings of a table.

Indonesian flag Here I want to appeal to Indonesian students to think again before translating ‘yang‘ when post-modifying nouns. Let’s compare a few sentences written by Indonesian students with their likely equivalents written by native English speakers:

Modified noun picture
Student sentence with error The picture that on the wall is from Australia.
Student sentence without error The picture that is on the wall is from Australia.
Native speaker The picture on the wall is from Australia.
Strategy used preposition phrase to post-modify the noun
Modified noun person
Student sentence with error The person who teach us is PG.
Student sentence without error The person who is teaching us is PG.
Native speaker The person teaching us is PG.
Strategy used ___ing to to post-modify the noun
Modified noun department store
Student sentence with error The department store that located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Student sentence without error The department store that is located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Native speaker The department store located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Strategy used V3 to post-modify the noun

In these examples I used three very useful strategies to post-modify nouns:

  1. preposition phrases
  2. ___ing
  3. V3

Notice that when you avoid the relative pronoun ‘that’ (Indonesian flag YANG!), then you also avoid a common error made by Indonesian students – not adding the verb ‘to be’ to the relative clause.

Try using these strategies instead of relative clauses and see how it increases your score for vocabulary in IELTS writing and speaking!

Noun phrase ‘__ed’ucation

Consequently, people lived in remote areas sometimes have limited access to learning resources.

Here the student wants to post-modify the noun ‘people‘ using a verb – ‘live‘. When post-modifying nouns using verbs, one option is to use a non-finite verb. Don’t worry you don’t need to google ‘non-finite’ – that’s just a fancy name for the following little group of verb forms:

  • __ing (fancy name ‘present participle’)
  • V3 (fancy name ‘past participle’)
  • to + v1 (fancy name ‘infinitive’)

If you’re using V3 to extend or ‘post-modify’ a noun, then you’re really using a kind of shortened relative clause:

  • ..people who are lived in remote areas..

In this case you end up with a passive construction (to be + V3), which obviously doesn’t make sense here because a thing or a person cannot ‘be lived‘.

Live‘ is an intransitive verb – it doesn’t take an object. But no worries, we can easily re-write the noun phrase with a relative clause and a transitive verb so that it makes sense:

  • ..people who are situated in remote areas..

Native speakers will nearly always shorten this relative clause to leave the non-finite verb only:

  • ..people situated in remote areas..

Finally, the noun phrase can now be incorporated into the sentence like this:

  • Consequently, people situated in remote areas sometimes have limited access to learning resources.

Alternatively we could stick with ‘live‘ but use __ing:

  • Consequently, people living in remote areas sometimes have limited access to learning resources.

In this case we are shortening another relative clause but we don’t have to consider whether or not the verb is transitive:

  • ..people who are living in remote areas..

When post-modifying nouns, native speakers generally use the shortened version without the relative pronoun.

To end this post, it’s worth putting non-finite verbs in context with other common methods for post-modifying nouns:

preposition phrases relative clauses __ing, V3, to+V1 time expressions

Sometimes these are interchangeable:

the number of plastic bags used by consumers in 2015 in America
the number of plastic bags used in America by consumers in 2015

And I’ll throw in a relative clause just to show off:

the number of plastic bags used by consumers in 2015 in America which are not made of biodegradable material

Notice that the __ed phrase also has a preposition phrase embedded into it:

used by consumers
used in America

And notice that time expressions are often also preposition phrases:

in 2015
on Tuesday
after I finished work

I hope all of that helps and look forward to hearing your feedback!