The Oxbridge Editing Blog 6th February 2024

Saxon Genitive: A Guide on the Use of Possessives in English

6th February 2024
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Possessives in English play a crucial role in indicating ownership or association. One of the primary methods used to express possession is through the Saxon Genitive, also known as the possessive case. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of the Saxon Genitive, its usage, and practical examples to master this aspect of English grammar.

What is the Saxon Genitive?

The Saxon Genitive, or possessive case, is a grammatical construction used to indicate possession or association between two nouns. It typically involves adding an apostrophe (‘) followed by an “s” (‘s) to the noun that possesses something or has a relationship with another noun. However, there are exceptions and variations based on the structure of the noun.

A Little Bit of History

The Saxon Genitive traces its origins to Old English grammar. It evolved from the genitive case in Proto-Indo-European languages, which indicated possession or relationship between nouns. The term “Saxon Genitive” refers to its association with the Anglo-Saxons, who used this grammatical construction extensively.

The possessive ‘s emerged in Middle English during the 14th century and gained prominence in written texts during the Renaissance. It became a standard feature of English grammar by the Early Modern English period. The use of the Saxon Genitive has remained consistent throughout the development of the English language, serving as a fundamental tool for expressing possession and relationships between nouns.

How to Use the Saxon Genitive

  • Singular Nouns: For singular nouns, add an apostrophe followed by “s” (‘s) to indicate possession.
    • Example: John’s car, Sarah’s laptop, the cat’s tail.
  • Plural Nouns Ending in “s”: For plural nouns ending in “s,” add only an apostrophe (‘) after the final “s” to denote possession.
    • Example: The students’ books, my parents’ house, the countries’ flags.
  • Plural Nouns Not Ending in “s”: For plural nouns not ending in “s,” add an apostrophe followed by “s” (‘s) to indicate possession.
    • Example: Women’s rights, children’s toys, men’s clothing.
  • Joint Possession: When two or more people share possession of something, add the possessive ending (‘s) only to the last noun.
    • Example: Sarah and John’s apartment, Mary and Tom’s wedding.
  • Indicating Possession with Inanimate Objects: The Saxon Genitive can also be used to indicate relationships between inanimate objects or concepts.
    • Example: The sun’s rays, the Earth’s atmosphere, the book’s cover.

Practical Examples of Saxon Genitive Usage

  • Personal Possession:
    • John’s bike is parked outside.
    • Mary’s phone is ringing.
  • Ownership of Objects:
    • The company’s profits have increased.
    • The student’s grades improved this semester.
  • Time and Relationships:
    • Today’s weather forecast predicts rain.
    • We discussed yesterday’s meeting outcomes.
  • Animals and Their Characteristics:
    • The cat’s whiskers twitched.
    • The dog’s tail wagged enthusiastically.

When Not to Use the Saxon Genitive

While the Saxon Genitive is a versatile grammatical tool, there are specific instances where its usage is not appropriate. 

Relationship Between People and Places

Avoid using the Saxon Genitive when expressing relationships between people and places. Instead, opt for constructions using the preposition “of.”

Example: She is the wife of a maths teacher who works at my school.

Owner’s Name Followed by a Sentence

When the owner’s name is followed by a sentence, it is preferable to use alternative constructions.

Example: The Queen of England.

Nouns for Inanimate Objects

For nouns denoting inanimate objects, consider alternative constructions using possessive adjectives or pronouns.

Example: The cover of the album; The album cover.

In these contexts, employing the Saxon Genitive may lead to ambiguity or confusion. Therefore, it is essential to choose appropriate constructions that convey meaning effectively. Utilising alternative constructions, such as those involving the preposition “of” or possessive adjectives/pronouns, ensures clarity and coherence in your writing or speech. 

The Double Genitive

The double genitive, also referred to as the double possessive, is a grammatical structure which entails the use of two possessive markers within a single phrase or sentence.

In the example “He is a friend of my father’s,” both “my” and “‘s” denote possession. The initial possessive marker “my” establishes the connection between the speaker and the noun “father,” signifying that the father belongs to the speaker. The subsequent possessive marker “‘s” emphasises that the friend belongs to the speaker’s father, highlighting the relationship between the friend and the father.

The double genitive serves to add emphasis or clarity to the relationship between the possessor and the possessed noun. Although not as prevalent as the single genitive, it is used to express subtleties of possession and relationships in the English language.

The double genitive is particularly common with nouns denoting relationships (e.g., friend, colleague, relative) and inanimate objects closely associated with individuals. It helps to enhance emphasis or clarity regarding the relationship between the possessor and the possessed noun.

Despite appearing redundant, the double genitive is a feature of English grammar that contributes nuance and specificity to expressions of possession. It is worth noting that the double genitive is more frequently employed in informal speech and writing than in formal contexts.


Mastering the Saxon Genitive is essential for effective communication. Understanding when and how to use possessives enhances clarity and precision in writing and speech. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide and practising with various examples, you can confidently incorporate the possessive genitive into your everyday writing. 

Interested in honing your English language skills further? Our team of expert editors can provide valuable feedback on your academic papers or business documents to help you write better. Whether it’s mastering the Saxon Genitive or refining your overall writing style, we are here to assist you. Reach out to us today to elevate your writing to the next level.