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There are three major types of possesssive constructions: (1) predicative possessive constructions, (2) external possessive constructions, and (3) adnominal possessive constructions. Of these three, this library covers only the last type of constructions. These three types of constructions are distinguished as follows:

Predicative possessive expressions are constructions in which the possessive relationship between two entities is expressed by means of a verb. This is often a verb that is roughly equivalent to the English verbs "have" or "belong". Alternatively, in some cases, possession may be expressed by constructions where the possessor is marked by an oblique case or an adposition and the verb is an existential verb of some kind, as in the Latin (lat) example below.







'I have a book' (lit. 'to me is a book')

[Bernd Heine. Possession: cognitive sources, forces, and grammaticalization. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.]

External possessive constructions are defined as expressions in which "a possessive modifier does not occur as a dependent constituent of the modified NP, but NP-externally as a constituent of the clause." This can be seen in German (ger), such as in the example below. Here, the possessor dem Kind 'the child' is not a dependent of the possessum, but rather is simply another argument of the verb wusch 'washed.' However, in this construction, it is only understandable as the possessor. External possessive expressions are not found in all languages and they are not modeled by this library.















'The mother washed the child's hair.'

[Martin Haspelmath. External possession in a european areal perspective. In Doris Payne and Immanuel Barshi, editors, External Possession. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1999.]

In adnominal possessive constructions, the possessor and the possessum form a single noun phrase together. The possessor is a syntactic dependent of the possessum. An example of an adnominal possessive phrase in Finnish (fin) is given below:





'their friend'

[Ida Toivonen. The morphsyntax of Finnish possessives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 18(3):579{609, 2000.]

Adnominal Possession as Modeled by this Library

In this library, there are two major ways to model a possessive construction: as a possessive strategy or as an instance of a possessor pronoun. Adding a possessive strategy to your grammar will add any appropriate inflecting rules or lexical items that mark possessive phrases in your language. Adding a class of possessor pronouns adds the lexical items corresponding to the possessor pronouns, or the inflectional rules that add affixal possessor pronouns. In both cases, any necessary phrase types are added as well.

The questionnaire prompts the user to supply information that is needed to model a given possessive strategy or class of pronouns. This information includes the order of constituents, how and where they are marked, and the syntactic relationship between them. Though the questionnaire is intended to be largely self-explanatory, some instruction is given here on how best to model the constructions found in your language. Topics covered include the distinction between possessive strategies and possessor pronouns, the difference between specifier-like and modifier-like possessor pronouns, the recommended way to model constructions that are traditionally analyzed genitive case marking on the possessor, and the coverage of inalienable possession. Should questions remain, please contact the matrix-dev mailing list.

Possessive strategies vs. possessor pronouns

As used in the adnominal possession customization page, the terms possessive strategy and possessor pronoun refer to different phenomena, though the delineation between the two is not always clear, given the overlap between the two. Here are some examples of phenomena in various languages, with the best analysis (possessive strategy or possessor pronoun) indicated.

Examples of possessive strategies:

Case 1: Neither argument may be a pronoun:

English (eng) ('s-possessive)






Case 2: The possessor can be a pronoun, but the pronoun is not distinct from non-possessive pronouns:

Japanese (jpn) (possessor marked by a clitic)







‘the teacher's book’







‘my office’

[Nazikian, F., Hudson, M. (2014). Modern Japanese Grammar. London: Routledge.]

Fijian (fij) (possessum marked by adposition; possessor unmarked)







‘John’s eye’







‘our hand(s)’

[Matthew S. Dryer and Martin Haspelmath, editors. WALS Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, 2013. URL ]

Case 3: Non-possessive pronouns can take possessive affixes that all nouns take:

Georgian (kat):





'your child'

(cf. the non-possessive form of the 2SG pronoun, shen)

[Brian G. Hewitt. Georgian: A structural reference grammar. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1995.]

In order to control whether a given affix attaches to pronouns or not, the user should create distinctive noun classes for pronouns and non-pronouns on the Lexicon subpage, and then indicated whether the position class that contains possessive affixes can attach to the pronoun class or not.

Examples of possessor pronouns:

Case 1: The possessor pronoun is entirely different from non-possessive pronouns:

English (eng)





‘my hat’

Case 2: The possessor pronoun is an affix on the possessum:

Hungarian (hun)





‘our hat’

[Anna Szabolcsi. The noun phrase. In The Syntactic structure of Hungarian, volume 27 of Syntax and semantics. Academic Press, San Diego, 1994.]

On the specifier/modifier distinction:

Specifier-like possessors. In some strategies, the possessor takes the place that one would expect a specifier (such as a determiner) to take. English is a good example of this phenomenon:

Pat's book

*the Pat's book

The possessum, book, cannot take a determiner, because the specifier role is being filled by the possessor Pat's.

Specifier-like possessors are also characterized by a word order wherein modifiers of the possessum appear between the possessor and the possessum:

Pat's blue book

*blue Pat's book (where the book is the thing that is blue)

Modifier-like possessors. In some strategies the possessor functions more like a modifier of the possessum. Ancient Greek (grc) is an example of this kind of language. As seen below, the possessum can take an article irrespective of whether or not the possessor appears:









'the father's house'

[William W. Goodwin. A Greek Grammar. Macmillan & Co., London, 1894.]

Modifier-like possessors are also able to appear in varying orders relative to other modifiers.

NB: if you don't have data that suggests one analysis over another, the specifier-like analysis is a recommended default.

The specifier/modifier distinction in possessor pronouns:

Like full NP possessors, possessor pronouns can also act either like specifiers or modifiers.

Modeling possessors marked with genitive case

A genitive case affix cannot be simply identical to the possessive affix. If the genitive case affix were to carry the necessary possessive semantics, then the genitive case could only be used in adnominal possessive constructions, while many languages use the genitive case in a host of other contexts as well. One possible analysis is to have the genitive case affix simply be homophonous with but distinct from the possessor marking. Though this would cover the facts, it would overlook the fact that the genitive affix coincides completely with the possessive affix. Instead, it is recommended that the user analyze the possessive construction as an unmarked construction wherein the possessor is constrained to have the case value genitive. This allows the genitive case affix to be identical to the affix that appears on the possessor without needing to carry the possessive semantics into contexts where they would not be appropriate.

The user can implement this analysis as follows: on the Case subpage, enter the name of the case that marks possessors (e.g. genitive). Next, create a possessive strategy where no marking appears on either the possessor or the possessum. When prompted, indicate that the possessor is required to have the value genitive for the feature case. Finally, ensure that the genitive affixes are defined on the Morphology subpage.

Inalienable possession

The distinction between alienably and inalienably possessed nouns is not fully modeled by this library at this time. However, many languages that make this distinction can nonetheless be modeled by taking advantage of architecture already in place in other libraries. For example, in languages where one class of nouns is required to appear with a possessive affix, the user can define distinct noun classes on the Lexicon page, and then require the desired possessive affixes by checking the 'obligatorily occurs' box on the appropriate position class on the Morphology subpage.

Currently this library does not support cases where the possessum requires a certain type of possessive marking, but is not marked by an affix. In order to fully model these languages, the user will have to directly edit the grammar. The best approach to modeling such a language would be to begin by defining noun classes on the Lexicon page that delineate the different classes of possessum. Each noun class should share some distinguishing syntactic feature (e.g. a boolean type called inalienable), as defined on the Other Features subpage. The user can then easily add constraints to the lexical items, lexical rules, and phrase structure rules that are added by the library currently.

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