Pronoun Puzzlers



Today let’s look into a seldom-discussed subject that’s quite a mouthful: compound possessives with nouns and pronouns.

Have a look at this sentence: Cesar’s and Maribel’s houses are both lovely. Note the ’s at the end of each name. This tells us that Cesar and Maribel each own their own house.

But when two people share ownership, the ’s goes after the second name only. The sentence Cesar and Maribel’s houses are both lovely refers to houses co-owned by Cesar and Maribel.

However, if one—or both—of the joint owners is written as a pronoun, the possessive form is required for both: his and Maribel’s house, Cesar’s and my house, her and my house, your and their house.

As the above examples demonstrate, compound possessives with pronouns require possessive adjectives (my, your, her, our, their). Avoid possessive pronouns (mine, yours, hers, ourstheirs) in such constructions.

It should be mentioned that compound possessives are often clunky as well as confusing. For instance, a picture of her and Cesar’s house could refer to a photo of “her” in front of the house that Cesar owns or a photo of the house that she and Cesar co-own. Big difference. Such ambiguous sentences should probably just be rewritten.

*                                        *                                         *                                         *                                          *

Last week we received this interesting note from a correspondent in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“The M.C. and I” is the title of a New York Times Book Review piece on Joel Grey’s new memoir. When I saw it I thought, Is that grammatically correct? I don’t even know how to think about figuring that out. Most titles aren’t sentences. I doubt The King and I would have gotten by all these years if it weren’t correct.

We’ve found that for every title like “The M.C. and I” and The King and I there are several like You, Me, and the Apocalypse (TV series), Me Talk Pretty One Day (book), Me and the Colonel (movie), “Me and Bobby McGee” (popular song), and on and on.

Here’s our theory: the subject pronoun I in a title like The King and I sends a subliminal message that what you are about to experience is high-minded and edifying. The King and I is a beloved Broadway musical about a prim Englishwoman who served in the court of the king of Siam in the 1860s. Consider the exotic subject matter and the sophisticated target audience and you can understand why The King and Me was not an option.

Now look at those other examples. The titles are meant to disarm us with humor or folksiness. They encourage a bond of easy intimacy between author and audience. There’s something comfortable about Me in a title and something more reserved and aloof about I.

 

Pop Quiz

Choose the best sentences. Our answers are below.

1.
A) Randy returned to he and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
B) Randy returned to his and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
C) Randy returned to him and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
D) Randy returned to himself and his wife’s farm in Kansas.

2.
A) Chris and my screenplay is almost finished.
B) Me and Chris’s screenplay is almost finished.
C) Chris’s and my screenplay is almost finished
D) Myself and Chris’s screenplay is almost finished.

3.
A) They and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
B) Their and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
C) Them and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
D) Them and their children were getting a new porch for their house.
E) They and their children were getting a new porch for their house.

4.
A) Your and her dog is on my lawn.
B) Yours and her dog is on my lawn.
C) Hers and your dog is on my lawn.
D) Rewrite the sentence.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. B
2. C
3. E (B is correct, but awkward)
4. D (A is correct, but awkward)

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 2:17 pm

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10 Comments on Pronoun Puzzlers

10 responses to “Pronoun Puzzlers”

  1. Conrad O. says:

    Could you please explain to me why one writes: ‘Your and her dog IS on the lawn’?

    It certainly seems rather awkward!

  2. Dennis Wright says:

    Halloo! “Me and Bobby McGee” isn’t so named to be folksy or less highfalutin: “me” is the object of a preposition. The full lyric is, “Feelin’ good was easy, Lord/When Bobby sang the blues./And feelin’ good was good enough for me–/Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.” (You may have heard a slightly different version; “Me and Bobby McGee” is one of those songs that singers like to “make their own” by messing with the lyrics — as well as implying that Bobby might be male or female depending on the sex and orientation of the singer.) Anywhoozle, the title is drawn directly from the lyric and is, in context, correct.

  3. Gerda Jacobi says:

    How would you write my last name (Jacobi) in the plural? e.g. the Jacobies arrived…

    How would you use the plural possessive? e.g. for the home that belongs to the Jacobi family: would you say the Jacobies’ home?

    • Proper nouns are not pluralized the same way common nouns are. Do not change the spelling of a name to make it plural. Instead, just add s. Therefore, the Jacobis is correct. To show plural possession, make the proper noun plural first, then use the apostrophe. Write the Jacobis’.

  4. Jared says:

    Thank you for this helpful post. The topic seems to be restricted to cases in which two people jointly own one or more objects. However, I was wondering if the same rules apply when two respectively own two objects?

    For example, I’m trying to figure out the best way to say:
    “I’ve added your and Matt’s names to the guest list.”

    Or in the case where both people are named, would it be:
    “I’ve added Matt and Kim’s names to the guest list.” ?

    Because Matt and Kim don’t share ownership of both names, it seems to be a slightly different case than that mentioned in the post, so I was wondering what the proper treatment would be. Thanks!

    • The second paragraph in this post refers to an example in which two people own separate objects. “Have a look at this sentence: Cesar’s and Maribel’s houses are both lovely. Note the ’s at the end of each name. This tells us that Cesar and Maribel each own their own house.” The following are correct:
      I’ve added your and Matt’s names to the guest list.
      I’ve added Matt’s and Kim’s names to the guest list.

  5. Leah Hernandez says:

    Which one?

    Jesse is lying in the hammock on the front porch.

    Jesse is laying in the hammock on the front porch.

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