Expressing Possession Greater Than One



Communicating joint ownership can be a grammatical no-man’s land for many of us. Whether we were listening, speaking, or writing, we’ve probably found ourselves with statements similar to these:

Chuck and Joe’s vacation resorts are in South America.
Chuck’s and his vacation resorts are in South America.
Theirs and Marla’s meetings are on Tuesday.
Marla and their meetings are on Tuesday.

Even the most particular of us can get caught here, especially when we’re not able to pause and think harder. To help reinforce clarity, we’ll further discuss joint possession.

Our Rules 4a and 4b of Apostrophes maintain our guiding principles:

  • If two people possess the same item, put the apostrophe + s after the second name only: Chuck and Joe’s vacation resorts are in South America (they jointly own the resorts).
  • In cases of separate rather than joint possession, use the possessive form for both: Chuck’s and Joe’s vacation resorts are in South America (they each own different resorts).

When joint ownership includes one or more pronouns, use the proper possessive adjective form (my, your, his, her, our, their).

Examples:
Chuck’s and his vacation resorts are in South America. (Because we have two people in the possessive, according to our guidance it should be clear that ownership is separate. However, if using a pronoun might leave the question of whether possession is joint or individual, retain the original identifiers.

Their and Marla’s meetings are on Tuesday. (The possessive adjective is their not theirs.) OR Marla and their meetings are on Tuesday.

These principles also apply to possession involving more than two nouns.

Examples:
Marla, Dalia, and Roberta’s meetings are on Tuesday. (All three are attending the same meetings.)
Marla’s, Dalia’s, and Roberta’s meetings are on Tuesday. (They are each attending separate meetings.)
Marla’s, Dalia’s, and her meetings are on Tuesday. (Because we have two preceding possessors establishing separate ownership, the pronoun does not cause confusion.)

Properly expressing possession may continue to be tricky, especially in spoken conversation. Committing to giving it focus, practice, and thought will support our mission for precision.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve considered in this article, choose the correct sentence of each pair concerning joint possession.

1a. I really want mine and Annette’s date to go smoothly.
1b. I really want my and Annette’s date to go smoothly.

2a. Ours and their weddings were both on Valentine’s Day.
2b. Their and our weddings were both on Valentine’s Day.

3a. Catopia and Doglandia’s stances on achieving a truce keep changing.
3b. Catopia’s and Doglandia’s stances on achieving a truce keep changing.

4a. Dagmar and Dietrich’s contribution to the art expo increased attendance.
4b. Dagmar’s and Dietrich’s contribution to the art expo increased attendance.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. I really want my and Annette’s date to go smoothly. (I really want Annette’s and my date to go smoothly would also be correct.)

2b. Their and our weddings were both on Valentine’s Day. (Use the proper possessive adjective forms.)

3b. Catopia’s and Doglandia’s stances on achieving a truce keep changing. (They have separate stances.)

4a. Dagmar and Dietrich’s contribution to the art expo increased attendance. (They jointly made a contribution.)

Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at 11:00 pm

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4 Comments on Expressing Possession Greater Than One

4 responses to “Expressing Possession Greater Than One”

  1. Doris Matos says:

    I just wanted to thank you for the support for all the students, including me, who have vision problems.

  2. Norm Cohen says:

    I really want my and Annette’s date to go smoothly.
    I would change this to “I really want Annette’s date and mine to go smoothly.”
    Similarly, in the initial example:
    Their and Marla’s meetings are on Tuesday
    I would revise to
    Marla’s meetings and theirs are…

    • I really want my and Annette’s date to go smoothly is clear in expressing that the subject and AnI reallnette are going on a date with each other. Your sentence, I really want Annette’s date and mine to go smoothly, leaves in doubt whether one date or two is being talked about. If you wish the pronoun to go second, the alternate correct answer given (I really want Annette and my date to go smoothly) is clear they are going on a date with each other.

      Our example sentence, Their and Marla’s meetings are on Tuesday, while grammatically correct, depending on context could be interpreted as multiple meetings together with Marla or separate meetings from hers. However, the second example of Marla and their meetings are on Tuesday clearly expresses that Marla and the others are attending the same meetings. Your example Marla’s meetings and theirs … is clear in representing multiple separate meetings.

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