Possessive forms

Mind Our English
Your questions answered by FADZILAH AMIN

WHICH sentence is acceptable in formal writing: “The hibiscus is Malaysia’s national flower” or “The hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia”.Which is correct: Happy Teachers’ Day or Happy Teacher’s Day? –Leannie

“The hibiscus is Malaysia’s national flower.” is acceptable. An apostrophe “s” after a noun to indicate possession can be used for countries, cities and towns, especially if that possessive form is associated with people. In the case of the hibiscus, it was the Malaysian parliament which agreed to make it our national flower. This usage is similar to that of “Britain’s defence strategy” in the following sentence from an online version of a British newspaper:

Richard Dannatt reflects on a life of military service and offers a characteristically frank analysis of whether Britain’s defence strategyis fit to respond to21st century threats. (telegraph.co.uk)

Britain’s defence strategy was surely devised by people.

On your second question, here’s a quotation from my answer to another reader a few years ago:

I would go for “Teachers’ Day”, using the plural possessive teachers’.

(On the website of The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in the United Kingdom, there is a reference to “World Teachers’ Day” on Oct 5, where the plural possessive is used.)

Now in the past

1. “The ship was now just a speck in the distance.”

In this sentence, why are “now” and “was” used together when “now” indicates the present time and “was” refers to the past?

2. Is this sentence correct: “I was able to sleep until he came back.”? Do I have to use the past participle to imply that one thing happened before another in the past? For example, “I had been able to sleep until he came back”. – Ahmad

1. “Now” can be used with a past tense verb when it is “used in stories or reports of past events to describe a new situation or event” (onlineCambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). This dictionary gives an example of its use in the sentence:

“It was getting dark now and we were tired.”

The Oxford English Dictionary also records a past meaning of “now” as “at the time spoken of or referred to”. Below is one of the quotations it provides:

“The assurance he had at first displayed was now succeeded by an air of embarrassment.”

2. The sentence is all right. It is clear enough. You don’t have to use the past perfect tense every time you mention two events or situations in the past. You only need to use it when it is necessary to clarify that something in the past happened before something else in the past.

Titled and entitled

When my daughter wrote the sentence, “She became very famous with one of her songs which entitled Courage”, in her essay, her tuition teacher corrected the sentence as “She became very famous with one of her songs which titled Courage”.

I think there is nothing wrong with the word “entitled”, and the word “which” is not necessary in the sentence. Hence, this sentence should be correctly written as “She became very famous with one of her songs entitled Courage”. – K M Choo

The verbs “entitle” and “title” can both be used to mean “give a book, film, song, etc. a title”. “Entitle” has another meaning as well, but it is not relevant here. These verbs are usually used in their passive forms, i.e. “is/are/was/were entitled”.

Your daughter’s choice of the verb “entitled” is correct, but since she used the relative pronoun “which” with it, she should have written the relative clause in full, i.e. “She became very famous with one of her songs which is entitled Courage”. The addition of “is” would make her sentence a correct sentence.

However, the sentence can be shortened by using a reduced relative clause, which means leaving out “which is” and using only the past participle “entitled”, to make the sentence you suggested: “She became very famous with one of her songs entitled Courage”. “Titled” can also be used in place of “entitled”.

At or with?

Many people say “I am angry with you” instead of “I am angry at you.” Which is correct ? – Ashley

We usually say we are angry with someone, but angry at something. So “I am angry with you.” is correct. And so is “I am angry at the inefficiency of our public transport system.”

Seating problem

Which is correct: The boy sits (on/in) the sofa.

Does it matter if the sofa is a single-seater or a three-seater? – Jackie

Both your sentences are correct. But it’s more common to say that somebody is sitting “on a sofa” than “in a sofa.”

There is no such thing as a single-seater sofa: sofas are usually defined as a seat on which two or three people can sit. An armchair, however, is a single-seater, and strangely enough, it is more common to say that somebody is sitting “in an armchair” than “on an armchair”. Perhaps it’s because we can really sink into an armchair with both our arms resting on the sides! We can’t do that on a sofa, which we might also have to share with other people.