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1 - University of Mount Union


									Plural V Possessive
You know the basic stuff:
    to make a noun plural, add s
    to make a noun possessive, add 's (apostrophe +s)
    if the noun already ends in an s, you can just add ' (apostrophe)
    watch out for irregular nouns in the plural (mice, data, media, children, etc.)
    beware possessive pronouns, which don't use an apostrophe (hers, yours, etc.)

Now check out some strange grammatical situations regarding possession:

Possessives with Appositive Forms
When a possessive noun is followed by an appositive, a word or phrase that renames or explains that
noun, the apostrophe +s is added to the appositive, not to the noun. When this happens, we drop the
comma that would normally follow the appositive phrase. This structure is awkward most of the time, but
in some cases it's still the best way.

We must get Joe Bidwell, the family attorney's signature.

Create such constructions with caution, however, as you might end up writing something that looks silly:

I wrecked my best friend, Bob's car.

You're frequently better off using the "of-genitive" form, writing something like

We must get the signature of Joe Bidwell, the family attorney.
I wrecked the car of my best friend, Bob.

Compound Possessives
When you are showing possession with compounded nouns, the apostrophe's placement depends on
whether the nouns are acting separately or together.

Miguel's and Cecilia's new cars are in the parking lot.

This means that each of them has at least one new car and that their ownership is a separate matter.

Miguel and Cecilia's new cars are in the parking lot.

This construction tells us that Miguel and Cecilia share ownership of these cars. The possessive
(indicated by 's) belongs to the entire phrase, not just to Cecilia. It’s easier to see in

Miguel and Cecelia’s new car is in the parking lot.

Another example:
Lewis and Clark's expectations were very much the same.

This construction tells us that the two gentlemen held one set of expectations in common.

Lewis's and Clark's expectations were altogether different.

This means that the expectations of the two men were different (rather obvious from what the sentence
says, too). We signify separate ownership by writing both of the compounded proper nouns in the
possessive form.

Heaping helpings of information were borrowed shamelessly from The Guide to Grammar and Writing, sponsored by the Capital
Community College Foundation .
When one of the possessors in a compound possessive is a personal pronoun, we have to put both
possessors in the possessive form or we end up with something silly:

Bill and my car had to be towed last night. Ought to be Bill's and my car had to be towed last night.
Giorgio's and her father was not around much during their childhood.

If this last sentence seems unsatisfactory, you might have to do some rewriting so you end up talking
about their father, instead, or revert to using both names:

Giorgio and Isabel's father wasn't around much. (and then "Giorgio" will lose the apostrophe +s).

Possessives & Compound Constructions
This is different from the problem we confront when creating possessives with compound constructions
such as daughter-in-law and friend of mine. Generally, the apostrophe +s is simply added to the end of
the compound structure: my daughter-in-law's car, a friend of mine's car. If this sounds clumsy, use the
"of" construction to avoid the apostrophe:

the car of a friend of mine

This is especially useful in pluralized compound structures:

the daughters-in-law's car

sounds quite strange, but it's correct. We're better off with the car of the daughters-in-law.

Double Possessives
Do we say "a friend of my uncle" or "a friend of my uncle's"? In spite of the fact that "a friend of my
uncle's" seems to overwork the notion of possessiveness, that is usually what we say and write. The
double possessive construction is sometimes called the "post-genitive" or "of followed by a possessive
case or an absolute possessive pronoun" (from the Oxford English Dictionary, which likes to show off).
The double possessive has been around since the fifteenth century, and is widely accepted. It's extremely
helpful, for instance, in distinguishing between

a picture of my father (in which we see the old man) and

a picture of my father's (which he owns).

Native speakers will note how much more natural it is to say

He's a fan of hers

than He's a fan of her,

although we would have no problem with He's a fan of her work.

Generally, what follows the "of" in a double possessive will be human, so we would say

a friend of my uncle's

but not a friend of the museum's [we would say a friend of the museum, instead]

What precedes the "of" is usually indefinite:

a friend, not the best friend,

unless it's preceded by the demonstratives this or that, as in
Heaping helpings of information were borrowed shamelessly from The Guide to Grammar and Writing, sponsored by the Capital
Community College Foundation .
this friend of my father's

Confused yet? But wait--there's more!

Possessives & Gerunds
Possessive forms are frequently modifiers for verb forms used as nouns, or gerunds. Using the
possessive will affect how we read the sentence. For instance,

I'm worried about Joe running in the park after dark.

means that I'm worried about Joe and the fact that he runs in the park after dark (the word "running" is a
present participle modifying Joe). On the other hand,

I'm worried about Joe's running in the park after dark.

puts the emphasis on the running that Joe is doing ("running" is a gerund, and "Joe's" modifies that verbal
noun). Usually, almost always in fact, we use the possessive form of a noun or pronoun to modify a

More is involved, however. Do we say

I can't stand him singing in the shower.

or do we say

I can't stand his singing in the shower.

Well, you have to decide what you find objectionable: is it him, the fact that he is singing in the shower, or
is it the singing that is being done by him that you can't stand? Chances are, it's the latter, the singing that
belongs to him, that bugs you. So we would say, I can't stand his singing in the shower.

On the other hand, do we say

I noticed your standing in the alley last night.   ?

Probably not, because it's not the action that we noticed; it's the person. So we'd say and write, instead,

I noticed you standing in the alley last night.

Usually, however, when a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund, that noun or pronoun takes a possessive
form. This is especially true of formal, academic writing.

Possessives versus Adjectival Labels
Don't confuse an adjectival label (sometimes called an "attributive noun") ending in s with the need for a
possessive. Sometimes it's not easy to tell which is which. Do you attend a writers' conference or a writers
conference? If it's a group of writers attending a conference, you want the plural ending, writers. If the
conference actually belongs to the writers, then you'd want the possessive form, writers'. If you can insert
another modifier between the -s word and whatever it modifies, you're probably dealing with a
possessive. Additional modifiers will also help determine which form to use.

Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdown passes. (plural as modifier)

The Patriots' [new] quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, threw three touchdown passes. (possessive as modifier]
I think that covers Woe Is I and Eats, Shoots and Leaves, plus a few other oddities.
Heaping helpings of information were borrowed shamelessly from The Guide to Grammar and Writing, sponsored by the Capital
Community College Foundation .

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