Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Doctor's Appointment or Doctor Appointment

I often wonder why it is so common to hear a person say, "I have a doctor's appointment."

The noun phrase "doctor's appointment" is possessive. It is an appointment that the doctor possesses, not the patient.

So technically when a patient is speaking about his or her appointment with a doctor, the patient should say I have a doctor appointment. "Doctor" modifies "appointment" and tells what kind of appointment the patient has.

A "doctor's appointment" could be an appointment the doctor has with his girlfriend, his psychiatrist, or his dentist (or any other person for that matter).

Think of it this way, do you ever hear a person say I have a dentist's appointment?

Unfortunately, "doctor's appointment" still seems to be the preferred phrasing as exhibited by the screen shots and by Grammar Girl's take on the situation.

The following is a comment from Grammar Girl in response to a question about this subject on on4/30/2007 4:49:09 AM.

I've looked this up in a bunch of different places. I found conflicting answering, none of which seemed definitively convincing. I prefer "doctor appointment" because it makes more sense to me (it's my appointment with the doctor, so doctor is modifying appointment), but "doctor's appointment" seems to be more common.Sorry I can't be more helpful!

Here is my personal favorite of the screen shots (note the name of the web site).

How will people ever get it straight when a site named Health in Plain English can't even get it?


Anonymous said...


I'm joking a little by shouting that at the start of this comment - and you seem to have much more experience in the formal study of linguistics than I do - but I don't think "doctor's appointment" is ungrammatical by this definition: I'm a native English speaker and I both understand and use this form. I don't parse "I'm late for my doctor's appointment" as "I'm late for (my doctor)'s appointment", but rather "I'm late for my (doctor's appointment), as though "doctor's appointment" was its own special lexical item. Even aside from this argument, what's wrong with the appointment being possessed by the doctor, anyway? The doctor *does* have an appointment with you, and pragmatically, we know which one you're referring to.

Even if this form *is* ungrammatical in some way (though I don't buy your argument) it is unambiguous (to most native English speakers - you won't make an argument that English is logically unambiguous, I think). So, why is it unfortunate that it exists, really?

(apologies if this is the wrong forum for this kind of argument - but this *is* a linguistics blog!)

Laura Payne said...

No apologies necessary lacolibrie. I love to hear comments (even if they are contrary to my feelings). And as much as I like to consider myself a "descriptivist", I do still have certain language peeves or prescriptivist tendencies.

Keep reading and commenting.

Caroline said...

This was a very timely post! I sent an email this morning to my boss notifying him that I had to leave early for a Dr. appt. and I debated whether to include an 's. I'm glad I did not!!

JCR said...

Maybe folks just generally find it easier to pronounce the z-sounding 's' before a vowel like it's easier to say 'an' rather than a long or short 'a' before a word beginning with an 'a' or other vowel. Or similarly, some find it easier to say "aks" instead of "ask", or "comf-ter-bull" instead of "comfort-able."

A recent pronunciation peeve of my own is how lots of people (even broadcast professionals - grrr!) say 'THI-SHEAR' instead of pronouncing 'this' and 'year' distinctly and separately. Listen for it on your local news broadcasts. I'm sure it'll make you grind your teeth! (Maybe even you do it without realizing it?!)

Some other peeves about broadcasters and narrators who should know better but say:

- "So-scurity" or "Sosh-scurity" instead of "Social Security" (especially those in Washington, D.C. who seem to find it necessary to use Beltway-speak).

- "Further" instead of "farther" (but that's a whole other discussion).

- "One-year" anniversary instead of first anniversary, or 100-year instead of 100th or, better still, "centennial".

These last examples are a bit off-topic, but it seemed a like a good opportunity to vent about them.


James Davis said...

I say Dentist's appointment as well as Doctor's appointment.

Since it's fairly common to simply use a genitive/possessive to identify a home/business based around a person/profession (I went to the baker's. I went to the butcher's. I went to the Henderson's. I went to the doctor's.) It makes sense to say: "I have an appointment at the Doctor's."

Equivalently and with less words: "I have a Doctor's appointment."

I've heard constructions of the form "I have an appointment at the Doctor's." and "I have a Doctor's appointment." a lot, and I'll bet they're related.

The fact is, the -'s here is not a possessive, but a marker showing a place of business associated with the root noun.

Fran said...

I just say I'm going to see the doctor. It avoids all kinds of trouble.

Julia said...

I'd never thought of this, but I guess Doctor's appt. would mean that you were going to an appointment that the doctor had made with someone else - like their malpractice attorney or their barber!

Rimpy said...

It seems to me that your appointment with the doctor is also your doctor's appointment with you, so "doctor's appointment" isn't wrong.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Those who don't say "dentist's appointment" but do say "doctor's appointment" are probably just swallowing the -S after the -ST.

After all, the doctor is the one that makes the appointment, right? When was the last time you got to say when you were coming, not to mention actually got seen at the appointed time?

But more seriously, surely this is just more of the -S ambiguity (users/'s/s' manual, anyone?) Sort of like how you can say "the allies' defeat of Germany" but not "the allies' defeat".

Laura Payne said...

WOW, I never realized this was such a debated topic. Keep the comments coming. I love reading them and you have all made some valid points.

Anonymous said...

"I have an appointment with a doctor."


Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the original post. I don't think "doctor's appt." is wrong grammatically, but I think "doctor appt." seems to better represent the encounter. I believe the appointment is as much (or more) mine as it is the doctor's.

For instance, the appt is about me and my health concern, not about the doctor.

I disagree with "The Ridger" that the doctor makes the appointment. I made the appt. when I looked up a doctor and called the office. I sought it out, not the other way around. And yes, you have to schedule to their availability, but my availability is equally factoring into the equation ("no, I have a big meeting Thursday, do you have anything Friday afternoon").

Also, psychologically, I think "doctor appt." is a subtle trigger that we might largely do well with. In healthcare these days, you have to own your issue and your care plan. I've seen friends, as patients, not get the tests or care they need because no one is advocating for them and they are kind of passive in the process. I don't believe in rigidly telling your doctor what your condition is or bossing them around, but I believe you have to carry the torch until you are satisfied or stop the machine if you've had enough already. Nobody knows your body better than you.

Finally, I personally never say or type "dentist's appointment", so I'll try to be consistent with my doctor.

Peace out,

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Doctors are not demigods that have control over my time and my body, they are purveyors of a service I choose to purchase. My doctor works for me, much as I work for my customers in my business. Also, I might say I have a doctor appointment at 11:00, but I believe my doctor would say he has a patient at 11:00. It is clearly my appointment, not my doctor's appointment.

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