Possessive Apostrophe

One of the most asked questions that we get at english4today.com is about the placement of the apostrophe for possessives. This is an answer for Pedro, who has asked about the possessive apostrophe, and for  Trish Upham from Australia who writes:

I am a Virtual Assistant working with lawyers and regularly come across the problem of multiple possessives in legal documents. For instance, when a group of people is buying a company, none of us can agree on the correct way to type something like “Smith, Dunn, & Bradstreet’s ownership”. Or should it be “Smith’s, Dunn’s, and Bradstreet’s”???

I would REALLY appreciate some expert opinion on this.

Thanks in anticipation!

Starting with your question first, Trish, the rule is that

  • For joint ownership, show possession only on the last noun.
    So your second example,’Smith, Dunn, & Bradstreet’s ownership’, is correct. As is,
    There is always a great atmosphere at Joan and Max’s parties.
  • For individual possession, show possession on all of the nouns.
    Maire’s, Pierre’s and Hubert’s cars were all burnt during the recent riots in Paris.
    Smith’s, Dunn’s and Bradstreet’s lives may not have been wildy exciting.

Some other rules for the possesive apostrophe are:

  • For singular and plural nouns that do not end in -s, form the possessive by
    adding -‘s. The women’s shelter, The dog’s bone.
  • For singular nouns that end in -s, (whether pronounced or unpronounced), form the possessive by adding -‘s. Anthony Hughes’s blog, The class’s teacher.
  • For plural nouns that end in –s, form the possessive by adding only an apostrophe.
    The books’ covers were all damaged. The queens’ powers were eroded over the centuries.
  • For compound nouns, show possession at the end of the compound.
    The Queen Mary’s last cruise was to New York. The Republic of Congo’s government is not very stable.
  • We do not use the possessive apostrophe with possessive pronouns (hers,
    theirs, yours, whose, and its
    ).

Hope that has helped Trish. What is a ‘virtual assistant’ … it sounds like one of those annoying little software beings Microsoft pops up in their programs all the time. If you let me know what it is I’ll put it up here so that we can settle a dispute now raging in our office! I keep telling them that those Microsoft animated bugs would not be able to email us…

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