Saturday, June 14, 2008

Nouns that don't genitive

One of the characteristics of English nouns (common, proper, and pro-) is that they can almost all appear in genitive (possessive) case. But it's interesting to note that some of them don't. This probably sounds like splitting hairs, and it probably is, but I'll leave that for another time. What I'm interested in here is looking at nouns that never appear in the genitive. My list so far is:
  1. what
  2. there
  3. umbrage
  4. sake
  5. dint
  6. worth
  7. behalf
  8. lack
  9. favo(u)r
  10. demise
  11. basis
  12. extent
  13. means
  14. stead (added June 16)
  15. shrift (added June 19)
  16. spate (added July 5)
  17. heed (added Aug 31)
  18. cusp (added Aug 31)
I'd be happy to see any of these disproved or to add any other worthy words to the list.
(what, there, umbrage, sake and dint are courtesy of Geoff Pullum & Rodney Huddleston)

1 comment:

Circéus said...

Some of those, although rare, definitely appear to be in use.
"Even shouldst thou call for sacrifice Of life-blood as thy favour's price."

constructions of the form "one's X's" seem possible in some cases too:

"I'd like to have read, and perhaps his demise's timing with today's holiday is but one more (final?) ironic twist to his tale."

"I returned to her, joyful and hopeful, since her crulety's seeds had all been sown, to reap her favor's fruits"

"[...] you may forgive him his
looks for his worth's sake, for they are only too proud to be base."

They still seem to be pretty rare though, except for "demise".

One final, ungrammatical to me, example:

"[...] when the State maintains that a defendant is not mentally ill the State cannot forcibly administer personality altering drugs to the person without his or someone acting in his behalf's consent."