Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Every Monster’s Mouth

Posted by Neal on April 19, 2008

A friend of mine recently wrote, asking:

I have a question regarding grammar. We have a book called “One Hungry Monster” and throughout the story, you get to count monsters from 1 to 10 as they beg to be fed. Finally, the little boy decides to feed them, and then you get to count from 1 to 10 the different types of food he brings (2 loaves of bread etc.) The 10th thing is “10 jars of peanut butter”, but the boy adds “and not a speck of jam, because I want every monster mouth shut tighter than a clam. Should it be “monster mouth” or “monster’s mouth”? I think they both sound correct, so I have no idea.

I was a little surprised by this question, since this book didn’t seem at all like my friend’s typical taste in leisure reading, and I’m almost certain she can count much higher than 10. Anyway, I’ll share what I wrote back:

Every monster mouth and every monster’s mouth are both correct. The first is just the compound noun monster mouth (it doesn’t matter that it’s written as two words) just like peanut butter or oven cleaner, put together with the determiner every to make a noun phrase. (A noun phrase is a noun plus any adjectives you care to add [in this case, none] and a
determiner if needed. Determiners include a, the, some, every, no, etc., as well as possessive forms: my, your, Neal’s, every monster’s.) Every monster’s mouth is a noun phrase, too, consisting of the plain old non-compound noun mouth and a determiner: every monster’s. (Inside that determiner lurks another noun phrase: every monster. But that’s another story.) In short:

Other grammar questions? Send them here!

One Response to “Every Monster’s Mouth”

  1. Kris said

    I am bookmarking this entry so I may explain this to friends who ask me similar questions. 🙂 Excellent answer.

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