The use of an article before a possessive proper noun - The late Michael Jackson's old home



I was pretty confirmed of not using any article before a proper noun that shows possessiveness.

The Maulik's car -incorrect
Maulik's car -correct

But then, I came across this piece of news on PopDust

The late Michael Jackson’s old home, Neverland Ranch, renamed back to its original name of Sycamore Valley Ranch, is up for sale for a reported $100 million.

Explain please.

Maulik V

Posted 2015-06-08T04:55:43.590

Reputation: 66 188

3Great observation! This isn't a full answer, but If I heard "I saw dead Michael Jackson's car" it would sound as if there are two MJ's - one live, whose care was not seen, and one dead. On the other hand, if I heard "I saw the dead Michael Jackson's car" then it sounds as if the speaker wants to call attention to the fact the the one and only MJ is dead. – Adam – 2015-06-08T05:30:21.367

1You mean a before a proper noun, right? Because I assume you don't have a problem with, say, the dog's leash. – None – 2015-06-08T05:34:56.177

yes, @pazzo the defnite article for the proper noun especially when it shows possession. – Maulik V – 2015-06-08T05:54:27.553

@MaulikV This question was interesting to me because of the part "the Michael Jackson's" in the title. I wished someone had really said or written that on the web so we would have had something really interesting to discuss. The late Michael Jackson's is not like *the Michael Jackson's, but I think you already know it. – Damkerng T. – 2015-06-08T06:04:18.227

The possessive here is a red herring; the same observation can be made without it. – WinnieNicklaus – 2015-06-08T14:43:10.687



Normally, a person's name is definite enough by itself, and there's no reason to add the definite article to it.  So, Maulik is simply "Maulik", and Maulik's car is simply "Maulik's car".

Sometimes, a person's name isn't quite definite enough.  Perhaps there is more than one Maulik.  We might need to distinguish between Mauliks.  I could say "the Maulik who asked this question" or "the Maulik from Ahmedabad".  Perhaps the other Maulik is shorter, and I could say "the taller Maulik".

Once we've added a modifier to your name -- anything from a simple adjective to an entire relative clause -- then we can no longer treat the name itself as definitive.  We have reason to use the definitive article.  That reason remains regardless of grammatical case.  We use "the" with the possessive case the same as we do with the subjective and objective cases.

Gary Botnovcan

Posted 2015-06-08T04:55:43.590

Reputation: 12 044

3The great Maulik. The wonderful Maulik. The mystical Maulik. The... late Maulik. :( – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2015-06-08T18:38:11.563

1@LightnessRacesinOrbit this little comment speaks louder than any answer! +1 :) But hey, I'm alive! – Maulik V – 2015-06-09T05:14:38.807

@MaulikV: Good :) – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2015-06-09T05:27:04.017


I do believe that when an adjective comes before the person's name, then an article is common and fine, either to express a nominative or a possessive.

That is, if we can say The late Michael Jackson, it appears we can also say The late Michael Jackson's old home.

For uses of the nominative case:

The novel (also film): The Talented Mr Ripley

And native speakers here in the US and I presume the UK would have no problem saying the talented Mr Ripley's apparel, for instance.

Or: The ridiculously popular Homer Simpson's son is named Bart.

For the indefinite article, consider A worn-out Mr Jones's worn-out jacket.

But you don't have to have an adjective.

A Mr Jones's worn-out jacket is all that kept the lad warm. Here, the lad is wearing a jacket of a certain Mr Jones, whose exact identity is not critical.

I thought I already mentioned (in a comment to a question previously raised by Maulik about the following term) The Maulik is not ungrammatical, however unusual or uncommon.

So, although unsual and representing a special usage, The Maulik's car was on fire is also not incorrect, in and of itself.


Posted 2015-06-08T04:55:43.590


2"The Maulik's car was on fire" may not be ungrammatical (if you say so), but it sounds really, really weird to this native speaker. (AmE) – Adam – 2015-06-08T05:51:26.783

1@pazzo I agree with you for the most part, but I think the last two paragraphs (or sentences) needs to be explained more carefully for the benefit of the learners. For one thing, I think the Maulik's car is unlike the Batman's car. Reading your last two paragraphs can make the reader think that the (someone's name)'s something is possible in any occasion, just unusual or uncommon. Unusual or uncommon how? That's the question I ask myself reading this answer. – Damkerng T. – 2015-06-08T05:57:32.993

Well, I usually go into great detail in explaining these things. I decided to writer a rather casual answer. Others are free to write answers. – None – 2015-06-08T06:09:05.157

What? No comments by the @MaulikV on this answer? – None – 2015-06-08T13:35:07.213

1@Adam The only situation I can think of where it would be appropriate is if there are multiple Mauliks, only one of whom is famous. For example, you can imagine a conversation going, "I saw Maulik's car on fire, yesterday." "What, the Maulik's car?" "Oh. There's a guy on my street called Maulik. Not the ELL guy." – David Richerby – 2015-06-08T21:49:38.733

@DavidRicherby ...there is always a special case. :-) – Adam – 2015-06-08T22:41:40.593


In answer to Damkerng's question I think this whole topic is horribly complicated. While the general rules of expressing possession are clear enough and we even teach them to children at a very young age, actually there are a number of special cases which are very complex. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that although English has, over the centuries, tended towards simplification of rules, this possessive is a survivor from a time when noun endings changed as in Latin (genitive). Most native speakers, even English teachers such as myself, get confused beyond a certain point. Errors in the use of apostrophe for possession are often made by native speakers. If somebody had asked me or any of my colleagues the original question in class, not many of us could have given pazzo's answer which looks correct.

david piper

Posted 2015-06-08T04:55:43.590

Reputation: 801

would you mind rewriting this and addressing the concern? – Maulik V – 2015-06-08T10:56:10.987


I'll go about this from a syntactic point of view using phrase structure rules.

The structure of a noun phrase in English is:

NounPhrase -> (Determiner) (Adjective +) Noun (PrepositionalPhrase +)

(How English Works; Curzan 175)

Determiner: Words like "the", "a", etc.

Adjective: Words like "late", "great", "strong", etc.

Noun: Words like "car", "computer", plural forms, possessive forms, proper nouns (names) such as "Michael Jackson", etc.

PrepositionalPhrase: Phrases that start with a preposition (e.g. "at", "in", etc.), and are followed by a NounPhrase, e.g. "at the beach", "in the house", etc.

The notation of ( ITEM ) means that ITEM is optional, and not required to form the NounPhrase. The notation of ITEM + means that there can be 1 or more of ITEM (e.g. "the strong, courageous woman").

So, here's how The late Michael Jackson’s parses:

Determiner Adjective ProperNounPlural

If we look at our NounPhrase rule, this part of the sentence exactly conforms!

So, syntactically, this is absolutely correct, because determiners can precede nouns in a noun phrase.

As you have noted, it seems incorrect to use a determiner before a possessive noun, but the adjective is what compliments the determiner.

There are more complicated phrase structure rules, but even from the basics we can see that syntactically, the sentence is valid. However, we also note that the adjective is used to compliment the determiner when used before a possessive noun, and is just another quirk of English!

Edit: You may also be interested in using the Stanford Sentence Parser in order to get a sense of what each word functions as, and what its place is in a sentence.

Chris Cirefice

Posted 2015-06-08T04:55:43.590

Reputation: 190

1But that would also parse "The Michael Jackson", which seems to sound wrong – Hagen von Eitzen – 2015-06-08T15:38:16.713

@HagenvonEitzen Exactly why I said near the end of my answer, *we also note that the adjective is used to compliment the determiner when used before a possessive noun, and is just another quirk of English!*. Syntactically, The Michael Jackson is correct according to this basic rule (see Stanford Parser). This is just one of those corner cases that is lumped in with more general rules, and requires special distinction (which is what we're doing here).

– Chris Cirefice – 2015-06-08T15:45:56.700

1It depends on the context. "I mean the Michael Jackson who works in my office, not the late singer" sounds OK (in British English). "I mean Michael Jackson who works in my office, not the late singer" is also OK. – alephzero – 2015-06-08T15:59:23.827