Genitive of composition?



I'm grappling with an English problem in the use of the apostrophe to express what I call the genitive of composition (as opposed to possession).

Here are two examples: A seniors organization. A citizens community association

I maintain that there should not be an apostrophe in these examples. It is not that the organization belongs to the seniors or citizens, but that it is comprised of or represents them.

In my search for help on this, I found the following:

genitive. charge. He is guilty OF MURDER.

genitive. indefinite. A box OF [some] WEIGHT.

genitive. description. He was a man OF NO CHARACTER.

genitive. material. A statue made OF SILVER.

genitive. objective. He had no fear OF DEATH.

genitive. partitive. One out OF A MILLION.

genitive. possession: The MAN'S dog. The dog OF THE MAN.
(appreciation to the source, whom I have alas forgotten)

I don't think this really addresses or answers my question. In problems like this, I always try to fall back on Latin for a solution.

Anyone have a comment?


Andrew (my first msg here, be gentle!)


The genitive would definitely be used in latin (partitive or subjective genitive IMO), but I don't think the possessive form would be used in English.

To understand this, try rewriting your examples using the 's, e.g. "a box of some weight" -> "a weight's box"; "fear of death" -> "Death's fear". The changes don't make sense except when the genitive is used for possession, so I agree the apostrophe is unwarranted in English.
I want to say these are wrong...but I can't.

Perhaps it is because in the given examples the plural nouns "seniors" and "citizens" are best described as nouns used as adjectives (which English tends to do). I am baffled.

Here is a group of people you could ask:

Apostrophe Protection Society


Civis Illustris
But all in all, and organization OF seniors would be the same as a seniors organization, wouldn't it? I think the apostrophe is warranted in English to distinguish between a senior's organization vs. a seniors' organization.