Friday, March 02, 2007

Another of Firsten's fumbles

Forgive me if I appear to be picking on Richard Firsten. It's just that if the guy who answers teachers' grammar questions for the largest organisation of English language teachers in the world can't do better than here, here, here, and here, then we're in trouble.

In his latest column, he agrees with Gail SepĂșlveda of Monterrey, Mexico that the following are partitive genitives:
a pair of pants
a cup of coffee
Really? A partitive construction is one in which there is a part to whole relationship, as in some of the people. In this example, there is a set of people and some identifies a subset of those people (i.e., one part of the group). The same thing applies to non-count nouns, for example a little of the wine.

But that's not the relationship in either of the above phrases. Consider the difference between a pair of the pants and a pair of pants. The first is partitive, the second non-partitive. The same applies to the cup of coffee example.

To be honest, I'd never paid any attention to the term partitive though I know I've seen it a number of times before. Yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to tell one from a flux capacitor. But it just takes a few minutes' effort to find out. Unfortunately, too many of us English language teachers seem to lack the curiosity or wherewithal to identify and use good references.

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