Pos­ses­sive forms


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WHICH sen­tence is ac­cept­able in for­mal writ­ing: “The hibis­cus is Malaysia’s na­tional flower” or “The hibis­cus is the na­tional flower of Malaysia”.

Which is cor­rect: Happy Teach­ers’ Day or Happy Teacher’s Day? – Lean­nie

“The hibis­cus is Malaysia’s na­tional flower.” is ac­cept­able. An apos­tro­phe “s” af­ter a noun to in­di­cate pos­ses­sion can be used for coun­tries, cities and towns, es­pe­cially if that pos­ses­sive form is as­so­ci­ated with peo­ple. In the case of the hibis­cus, it was the Malaysian par­lia­ment which agreed to make it our na­tional flower. This us­age is sim­i­lar to that of “Bri­tain’s de­fence strat­egy” in the fol­low­ing sen­tence from an on­line ver­sion of a Bri­tish news­pa­per:

Richard Dan­natt re­flects on a life of mil­i­tary ser­vice and of­fers a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally frank anal­y­sis of whether Bri­tain’s de­fence strat­egy is fit to re­spond to21st cen­tury threats. (tele­graph.co.uk)

Bri­tain’s de­fence strat­egy was surely de­vised by peo­ple.

On your sec­ond ques­tion, here’s a quo­ta­tion from my an­swer to an­other reader a few years ago:

I would go for “Teach­ers’ Day”, us­ing the plu­ral pos­ses­sive teach­ers’.

(On the web­site of The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of School­mas­ters and Union of Women Teach­ers (NASUWT) in the United King­dom, there is a ref­er­ence to “ World Teach­ers’ Day” on Oct 5, where the plu­ral pos­ses­sive is used.)

Now in the past

1. “The ship was now just a speck in the dis­tance.”

In this sen­tence, why are “now” and “was” used to­gether when “now” in­di­cates the present time and “was” refers to the past?

2. Is this sen­tence cor­rect: “I was able to sleep un­til he came back.”? Do I have to use the past par­tici­ple to im­ply that one thing hap­pened be­fore an­other in the past? For ex­am­ple, “I had been able to sleep un­til he came back”. – Ah­mad

Ti­tled and en­ti­tled

When my daugh­ter wrote the sen­tence, “She be­came very fa­mous with one of her songs which en­ti­tled Courage”, in her es­say, her tu­ition teacher cor­rected the sen­tence as “She be­came very fa­mous with one of her songs which ti­tled Courage”.

I think there is noth­ing wrong with the word “en­ti­tled”, and the word “which” is not nec­es­sary in the sen­tence. Hence, this sen­tence should be cor­rectly writ­ten as “She be­came very fa­mous with one of her songs en­ti­tled Courage”. – K M Choo

1. “Now” can be used with a past tense verb when it is “used in sto­ries or re­ports of past events to de­scribe a new sit­u­a­tion or event” (on­line Cam­bridge Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary). This dic­tio­nary gives an ex­am­ple of its use in the sen­tence:

“It was get­ting dark now and we were tired.”

The Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary also records a past mean­ing of “now” as “at the time spo­ken of or re­ferred to”. Be­low is one of the quo­ta­tions it pro­vides:

“The as­sur­ance he had at first dis­played was now suc­ceeded by an air of em­bar­rass­ment.”

2. The sen­tence is all right. It is clear enough. You don’t have to use the past per­fect tense ev­ery time you men­tion two events or sit­u­a­tions in the past. You only need to use it when it is nec­es­sary to clar­ify that some­thing in the past hap­pened be­fore some­thing else in the past.

The verbs “en­ti­tle” and “ti­tle” can both be used to mean “give a book, film, song, etc. a ti­tle”. “En­ti­tle” has an­other mean- ing as well, but it is not rel­e­vant here. These verbs are usu­ally used in their pas­sive forms, i.e. “is/are/was/were en­ti­tled”.

Your daugh­ter’s choice of the verb “en­ti­tled” is cor­rect, but since she used the rel­a­tive pro­noun “which” with it, she should have writ­ten the rel­a­tive clause in full, i.e. “She be­came very fa­mous with one of her songs which is en­ti­tled Courage”. The ad­di­tion of “is” would make her sen­tence a cor­rect sen­tence.

How­ever, the sen­tence can be short­ened by us­ing a re­duced rel­a­tive clause, which means leav­ing out “ which is” and us­ing only the past par­tici­ple “en­ti­tled”, to make the sen­tence you sug­gested: “She be­came very fa­mous with one of her songs en­ti­tled Courage”. “Ti­tled” can also be used in place of “en­ti­tled”.

At or with?

Seat­ing prob­lem

Both your sen­tences are cor­rect. But it’s more com­mon to say that some­body is sit­ting “ on a sofa” than “ in a sofa.”

There is no such thing as a sin­gle-seater sofa: so­fas are usu­ally de­fined as a seat on which two or three peo­ple can sit. An arm­chair, how­ever, is a sin­gle-seater, and strangely enough, it is more com­mon to say that some­body is sit­ting “ in an arm­chair” than “ on an arm­chair”. Per­haps it’s be­cause we can re­ally sink into an arm­chair with both our arms rest­ing on the sides! We can’t do that on a sofa, which we might also have to share with other peo­ple.

We usu­ally say we are an­gry with some­one, but an­gry at some­thing. So “I am an­gry with you.” is cor­rect. And so is “I am an­gry at the in­ef­fi­ciency of our pub­lic trans­port sys­tem.” Many peo­ple say “I am an­gry with you” in­stead of “I am an­gry at you.” Which is cor­rect ? – Ashley Which is cor­rect: The boy sits ( on/in) the sofa.

Does it mat­ter if the sofa is a sin­gle­seater or a three-seater? – Jackie

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