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Basic semantic types of the genitive

First, the form which can be called the "genitive of possessor (владелец)". Its constructional meaning will be defined as "inorganic" possession, i.e. possessional relation (in the broad sense) of the genitive referent to the object denoted by the head-noun. E.g.: Christine's living-room; the assistant manager's desk; Dad's earnings; Kate and Jerry's grandparents; the Steel Corporation's hired slaves.

The diagnostic test for the genitive of possessor is its transformation into a construction that explicitly expresses the idea of possession (belonging) inherent in the form. Cf.: Christine's living-room → the living-room belongs to Christine; the Steel Corporation's hired slaves → the Steel Corporation possesses hired slaves.*

Second, the form which can be called the "genitive of integer (целое)". Its constructional meaning will be defined as "organic possession", i.e. a broad possessional relation of a whole to its part. E.g.: Jane's busy hands; Patrick's voice; the patient's health; the hotel's lobby.

Diagnostic test: ...→ the busy hands as part of Jane's person; ...→ the health as part of the patient's state; ...→the lobby as a component part of the hotel, etc.

A subtype of the integer genitive expresses a qualification received by the genitive referent through the headword. E.g.: Mr. Dodson's vanity; the computer's reliability.

This subtype of the genitive can be called the "genitive of received qualification".

Third, the "genitive of agent". The more traditional name of this genitive is "subjective". The general meaning of the genitive of agent is explained in its name: this form renders an activity or some broader processual relation with the referent of the genitive as its subject. E.g.: the great man's arrival; Peter's insistence; the councillor's attitude; Campbell Clark's gaze; the hotel's competitive position.

Diagnostic test: ...→ the great man arrives; ...→ Peter insists; ...→ the hotel occupies a competitive position, etc.

A subtype of the agent genitive expresses the author, or, more broadly considered, the producer of the referent of the head-noun. Hence, it receives the name of the "genitive of author". E.g.: Beethoven's sonatas; John Galsworthy's "A Man of Property"; the committee's progress report.

Diagnostic test: ...—» Beethoven has composed (is the author of) the sonatas; ...→ the committee has compiled (is the compiler of) the progress report, etc.

Fourth, the "genitive of patient". This type of genitive, in contrast to the above, expresses the recipient of the action or process denoted by the head-noun. E.g.: the champion's sensational defeat; Erick's final expulsion; the meeting's chairman; the St Gregory's proprietor; the city's business leaders; the Titanic's tragedy.

Diagnostic test: ...→ the champion is defeated (i.e. his opponent defeated him); ...→Erick is expelled; ...→ the meeting is chaired by its chairman; ...→ the St Gregory is owned by its proprietor, etc.

Fifth, the "genitive of destination". This form denotes the destination, or function of the referent of the head-noun. E.g.: women's footwear; children's verses; a fishers' tent.

Diagnostic test: ...→ footwear for women; ...→ a tent for fishers, etc.

Sixth, the "genitive of dispensed qualification". The meaning of this genitive type, as different from the subtype "genitive of received qualification", is some characteristic or qualification, not received, but given by the genitive noun to the referent of the head-noun. E.g.: a girl's voice; a book-keeper's statistics; Curtis O'Keefe's kind (of hotels — M.B.).

Diagnostic test: ...→a voice characteristic of a girl; ...→ statistics peculiar to a book-keeper's report; ...→ the kind (of hotels) characteristic of those owned by Curtis O'Keefe.

Under the heading of this general type comes a very important subtype of the genitive which expresses a comparison. The comparison, as different from a general qualification, is supposed to be of a vivid, descriptive nature. The subtype is called the "genitive of comparison". This term has been used to cover the whole class. E.g.: the cock's self-confidence of the man; his perky sparrow's smile.

Diagnostic test: ...→ the self-confidence like that of a cock; ...→ the smile making the man resemble a perky sparrow.

Seventh, the "genitive of adverbial". The form denotes adverbial factors relating to the referent of the head-noun, mostly the time and place of the event. Strictly speaking, this genitive may be considered as another subtype of the genitive of dispensed qualification. Due to its adverbial meaning, this type of genitive can be used with adverbialised substantives. E.g.: the evening's newspaper; yesterday's encounter; Moscow's talks.

Diagnostic test: ...→ the newspaper issued in the evening; ...→the encounter which took place yesterday; ...→the talks that were held in Moscow.

Eighth, the "genitive of quantity". This type of genitive denotes the measure or quantity relating to the referent of the head-noun. For the most part, the quantitative meaning expressed concerns units of distance measure, time measure, weight measure. E.g.: three miles' distance; an hour's delay; two months' time; a hundred tons' load.

Diagnostic test: ...→ a distance the measure of which is three miles; ...→ a time lasting for two months; ...→ a load weighing a hundred tons.


Article is a determining (определяющий) unit of specific nature accompanying the noun in communicative collocation сочетание слов в предложении. Its special character is clearly seen (хорошо видно) against the background (происхождение) of determining words of half-notional semantics. Whereas the function of the determiners such as this, any, some is to explicitly(явно) interpret (объяснить) the referent of the noun in relation to other objects or phenomena of a like kind, the semantic purpose of the article is to specify (точно определять )the nounal (именной) referent (объект), as it were, altogether (в общем) unostentatiously (ненавязчиво), to define it in the most general way, without any explicitly expressed contrasts.

This becomes obvious when we take the simplest examples ready at hand (находящийся под рукой). Cf.:

Will you give me this pen, Willy? (I.e. the pen that I am pointing out, not one of your choice.) — Will you give me the pen, please? (I.e. simply the pen from the desk, you understand which). Some woman called in your absence, she didn't give her name. (I.e. a woman strange to me.)— A woman called while you were out, she left a message. (I.e. simply a woman, without a further connotation.)

Another peculiarity of the article, as different from the determiners in question, is that, in the absence of a determiner (определяющего слова), the use of the article with the noun is quite obligatory (несомненно обязательно), in so far as the cases of non-use of the article are subject to no less definite rules than the use of it.

Taking into consideration these peculiar features of the article, the linguist is called upon to make a sound statement about its segmental status in the system of morphology. Namely, his task is to decide whether the article is a purely auxiliary element of a special grammatical form of the noun which functions as a component of a definite morphological category, or it is a separate word, i.e. a lexical unit in the determiner word set, if of a more abstract meaning than other determiners.The problem is a vexed one.

A mere (простое) semantic observation (наблюдение) of the articles in English, i.e. the definite article the and the indefinite article a/an, at once discloses not two, but three meaningful characterisations of the nounal referent: one rendered by the definite article, one rendered by the indefinite article, and one rendered by the absence (or non-use) of the article. Let us examine them separately.

The definite article expresses the identification or individualisation of the referent of the noun: the use of this article shows that the object denoted is taken in its concrete, individual quality. This meaning can be brought to explicit exposition by a substitution test. Cf.:

But look at the apple-tree!→ But look at this apple-tree! The town lay still in the Indian summer sun.—» That town lay still in the Indian summer sun.


The indefinite article, as different from the definite article, is commonly interpreted as referring the object denoted by the noun to a certain class of similar objects; in other words, the indefinite article expresses a classifying generalisation of the nounal referent, or takes it in a relatively general sense.

A door opened in the wall. → A door (not a window) opened in the wall. We saw a flower under the bush.→ We saw a flower (not a strawberry) under the bush.


Alongside of free elliptical constructions, there are cases of the semantically unspecified non-use of the article in various combinations of fixed type, such as prepositional phrases (on fire, at hand, in debt, etc.), fixed verbal collocations (take place, make use, cast anchor, etc.), descriptive coordinative groups and repetition groups (man and wife, dog and gun, day by day, etc.), and the like. These cases of traditionally fixed absence of the article are quite similar to the cases of traditionally fixed uses of both indefinite and definite articles (cf.: in a hurry, at a loss, have a look, give a start, etc.; in the main, out of the question, on the look-out, etc.).

Outside the elliptical constructions and fixed uses, however, we know a really semantic absence of the article with the noun. It is this semantic absence of the article that stands in immediate meaningful correlation with the definite and indefinite articles as such.

As is widely acknowledged, the meaningful non-uses of the article are not homogeneous; nevertheless, they admit of a very explicit classification founded on the countability characteristics of the noun

The essential points of the said classification are three in number.

First. The meaningful absence of the article before the countable noun in the singular signifies that the noun is taken in an abstract sense, expressing the most general idea of the object denoted. This meaning, which may be called the meaning of "absolute generalisation", can be demonstrated by inserting in the tested construction a chosen generalising modifier (such as in general, in the abstract, in the broadest sense). Cf.:

Law (in general) begins with the beginning of human society. Steam-engine (in general) introduced for locomotion a couple of centuries ago has now become obsolete.

Second. The absence of the article before the uncountable noun corresponds to the two kinds of generalisation: both relative and absolute. To decide which of the two meanings is realised in any particular case, the described tests should be carried out alternately. Cf.:

Coffee (a kind of beverage served at the table: relative generalisation) or tea, please? Coffee (in general: absolute generalisation) stimulates the function of the heart.

Third. The absence of the article before the countable noun in the plural, likewise, corresponds to both kinds of generalisation, and the exposition of the meaning in each case can be achieved by the same semantic tests. Cf.:

Stars, planets and comets (these kinds of objects: relative generalisation) are different celestial bodies (not terrestrial bodies: relative generalisation). Wars (in general: absolute generalisation) should be eliminated as means of deciding international disputes.


The definite article serves as an indicator of the type of nounal information which is presented as the "facts already known", i.e. as the starting point of the communication. In contrast to this, the indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article introduces the central communicative nounal part of the sentence, i.e. the part rendering the immediate informative data to be conveyed from the speaker to the listener. In the situational study of syntax the starting point of the communication is called its "theme", while the central informative part is called its "rheme".In accord with the said situational functions, the typical syntactic position of the noun modified by the definite article is the "thematic" subject, while the typical syntactic position of the noun modified by the indefinite article or by the meaningful absence of the article is the "rhematic" predicative. Cf.:

The day (subject) was drawing to a close, the busy noises of the city (subject) were dying down. How to handle the situation was a big question (predicative). The sky was pure gold (predicative) above the setting sun.


Another essential contextual-situational characteristic of the articles is their immediate connection with the two types of attributes to the noun. The first type is a "limiting" attribute, which requires the definite article before the noun; the second type is a "descriptive" attribute, which requires the indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article before the noun. Cf.:

The events chronicled in this narrative took place some four years ago. (A limiting attribute) She was a person of strong will and iron self-control. (A descriptive attribute) He listened to her story with grave and kindly attention. (A descriptive attribute).


The article determination of the noun should be divided into two binary correlations (отношения) connected with each other hierarchically.

Relative Generalisation Absolute Generalisation

("Classification") ("Abstraction")


The opposition of the higher level operates in the whole system of articles. It contrasts the definite article with the noun against the two other forms of article determination of the noun, i.e. the indefinite article and the meaningful absence of the article. In this opposition the definite article should be interpreted as the strong member by virtue of its identifying and individualising function, while the other forms of article determination should be interpreted as the weak member, i.e. the member that leaves the feature in question ("identification") unmarked.

The opposition of the lower level operates within the article subsystem that forms the weak member of the upper opposition. This opposition contrasts the two types of generalisation, i.e. the relative generalisation distinguishing its strong member (the indefinite article plus the meaningful absence of the article as its analogue with uncountable nouns and nouns in the plural) and the absolute, or "abstract" generalisation distinguishing the weak member of the opposition (the meaningful absence of the article).


The best way of demonstrating the actual oppositional value of the articles on the immediate textual material is to contrast them in syntactically equivalent conditions in pairs. Cf. the examples given below.

Identical nounal positions for the pair "the definite article — the indefinite article": The train hooted (that train). — A train hooted (some train).

Correlative nounal positions for the pair "the definite article — the absence of the article": I'm afraid the oxygen is out (our supply of oxygen). — Oxygen is necessary for life (oxygen in general, life in general).

Correlative nounal positions for the pair "the indefinite article — the absence of the article": Be careful, there is a puddle under your feet (a kind of puddle).— Be careful, there is mud on the ground (as different from clean space).

Finally, correlative nounal positions for the easily neutralised pair "the zero article of relative generalisation — the zero article of absolute generalisation": New information should be gathered on this subject (some information). — Scientific information should be gathered systematically in all fields of human knowledge (information in general).

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