Possessive with Two Nouns

The possessive case can be confusing, especially when two nouns are doing the possessing. Fortunately, The Chicago Manual of Style sheds light on this conundrum.

Chicago says that when two nouns “possess” the same entity, only the second takes an apostrophe (‘):

my aunt and uncle’s house

Gilbert and Sullivan’s lolanthe

Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s transportation system

On the other hand, when two nouns possess different entities, both possessives take an apostrophe:

my aunt’s and uncle’s specific talents

New York’s and Chicago’s transportation systems

our friends’ and neighbors’ children

Isn’t that neat?

If any writing questions have you stumped, send them in. I’ll check them out for you.

Cheers,

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

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About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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69 Responses to Possessive with Two Nouns

  1. little sister says:

    Ahhh…this post is so informative that I find it also soothing. Conundrum solved! Thank you!

    • Bryarly says:

      Haha, I was feeling the same response- a real sense of relief, as this has been a grammatical nuisance for me for years. I never bothered to look it up until now. Thank you for the info.

  2. 123clear says:

    You are very welcome, Dina.

    Cheers,
    Tara

  3. Sandra Stephens says:

    Please tell me how to punctuate the following:

    Boards and Commissions Members Recognition

  4. 123clear says:

    Sandra,

    Without the context, it’s hard to say. Is this the working title for an event (a recognition dinner, perhaps)? Is it a phrase you need to place in a sentence?

    In any case, to get around the sibilance and the awkwardness of so many plural nouns in a row, my first impulse would be to forget about the possessive and use “of” instead, something like this:

    in recognition of the members of the various boards and commissions, or

    to recognize the members of the various boards and commissions

    Cheers,
    Tara

  5. William Tate says:

    What about when yourself and someone else are in possesion. Do you say “me and Sarah’s house” or “Mine and Sarah’s house” or “Sarah’s and my house”?

    I get very confused by that one!

  6. 123clear says:

    Good question, William. Thank you for asking.

    Briefly, the last option you suggested, “Sarah’s and my house,” is the one I would choose in this case.

    For more detail, please see the October 30, 2008 post to my blog, which your question has inspired.

    Cheers,
    Tara

    • shawnshawn says:

      But Tara, your suggestion doesn’t follow your rule.
      If your rule is right, then it should be “Sarah and my house”

      • 123clear says:

        Hi, Shawn.

        Sarah and my house is incorrect. If Sarah and whoever “my” is share the same house, it would be “Sarah’s and my house.”

        Cheers,
        Tara

  7. Anita says:

    Thanks. This is helpful. I am writing: …little Johnny’s and little Suzy’s performance…
    I think I need both possessives because they are performing separately in school.
    Now I’m wondering if I should use the world “performances?” hmmm…

    • 123clear says:

      Exactly right, Anita. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, it’s “. . . little Johnny’s and little Suzy’s performances.”

  8. Maria says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  9. Adair says:

    How about this one?

    Parker’s Writer’s Notebook

    Is that correct? Can you have two possessives in a row?

    Thanks!

    • 123clear says:

      Yes, I believe it is.

      According to Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, section 5.26, “The possessive of a title or name is formed by adding ‘s {Lloyd’s of London’s records}.”

      Cheers,
      Tara

  10. Which is correct?
    the College’s associate’s degree programs
    or
    the College’s associate degree programs

    • 123clear says:

      I regret the delayed response, Cherie. I hope this isn’t too late to be helpful to you.

      I gather that your question refers to a particular college. In that case, I’d want to stick with the usage the college has selected, whether it’s “associate’s degree programs” or “associate degree programs.”

      If the college uses associate degree programs, just do what you already did:

      The college’s associate degree programs.

      But if the college uses associate’s degree programs, I’d probably avoid the double quotation by putting it like this:

      The associate’s degree programs at the college.

      You have probably noticed that I changed College to college. This is called “down” style, in which proper names are capitalized, but many words derived from or associated with proper names are lowercased. Here’s an example from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition:

      Albion College was founded in 1835. The college has some illustrious alumni.

      If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to write again. I’ll try to be more prompt next time!

      Warm regards,
      Tara

  11. marc says:

    How do idioms work? In particular, which of these is correct:
    That seems up you and your wife’s alley.
    That seems up your and your wife’s alley.

    There’s no real ‘alley’, so the guidelines with respect to possession don’t apply.

    • 123clear says:

      Hi, Marc.

      Interesting example! Thank you for offering it.

      This option is correct: That seems up your and your wife’s alley.

      In the first instance, the possessive pronoun your modifies alley, and in the second instance, your modifies the possessive noun wife’s, which in turn modifies alley.

      I have never come across any rule stating that the guidelines with respect to possession don’t apply to idioms. Where did you see it?

      Best,
      Tara

      • marc says:

        Hi Tara,

        Perhaps the extra ‘your’ modifying ‘wife’ is making it confusing so this might be more clear:

        That seems up you and Greg’s alley.
        That seems up your and Greg’s alley.

        The challenge is that there’s no real alley to assess whether possession is joint possession or not.

      • 123clear says:

        Hi, Marc.

        Whether the alley is real or not, neither “That seems up you and your wife’s alley” nor “That seems up you and Greg’s alley” would ever be correct, because you alley doesn’t make sense.

        So in this case, we’re stuck with one alley, shared by “you” and “your wife,” or by “you” and Greg.

        To indicate that there are two alleys (again, whether they’re idiomatic or not), I’d change the sentence to something like this:

        That seems right up your alley. Your wife’s alley, too.

        Or,

        That seems right up your alley. Greg’s alley, too.

        What do you think?

  12. Stephanie says:

    Hello,
    I love your website! I have a rather confusing question. How would I punctuate “I highly value you and your colleague(‘s), John Smith(‘s), advice?” I cannot find an answer in any of my grammar books.

    Best,
    Stephanie

    • 123clear says:

      Hi, Stephanie.

      Thank you for the note and the question.

      You could do it like this:

      I highly value your and your colleague John Smith’s advice.

      Or you could reword it, something like this:

      I highly value the advice you and your colleague John Smith have offered.

      Or this:

      I highly value the advice I received from you and your colleague John Smith.

      Cheers,
      Tara

  13. Grim says:

    Helpful indeed.

  14. Daniel says:

    Thanks Tara for this website. What a great resource!

  15. Anna says:

    Hi, should I say/write “Joe’s and my wedding”, “My and Joe’s wedding”, or something else? “Joe and my wedding” sounds wrong. Avoiding this construction seems to demand whole previous paragraphs, yet I routinely avoid it because nothing sounds right. “Jill’s and my car” still sounds the best to me, but I can’t find a rule to support it, or explain why it is correct or incorrect.

    Thanks in advance,

    Anna

  16. Anna says:

    Oops, I’m very sorry, I see that you answered this very question some time ago, and thanks to the great organization of your site, I was able to find your blog post of October 2008 in no time at all. “Sarah’s and my house” and “Joe’s and my wedding” is the pleasing result. Thank you very much!

  17. Kira says:

    Would this be properly punctuated? “I learned that John’s dad’s side of the family live in Texas.”?

    • 123clear says:

      Yes, Kira, the sentence you sent is punctuated correctly. John and his dad are not possessing the same thing. John “possesses” his dad, and John’s dad “possesses” his side of the family in Texas.
      Cheers,
      Tara

  18. Daniela says:

    so should i say:

    WIZARD students or

    WIZARD’S students

    (wizard is a name of a school)

    Thankyou

    • 123clear says:

      Hi, Daniela. Great question.

      First, this is not a possessive with two nouns. It’s one noun (Wizard) possessing another noun (students). One of my other posts, http://writingtips.wordpress.com/category/parts-of-speech/possessive-noun/, applies to this case.

      In brief, though, the rule is to add ‘s to the end of the noun that’s doing the possessing, making Wizard’s students the winner. For some reason, this sounds odd to me, so I would probably either go with Wizard students in spite of the rule, or change the wording to “students of Wizard.”

      One other thing to consider. Since Wizard is an unusual name for a school, you may want to remind readers of this by using the full name of the school, as in “students of Wizard College” or “students of “Wizard Academy.”
      Cheers,
      Tara

  19. infocheck says:

    Is ‘the groom & best man’s attire correct or should it be the groom’s & best man’s attire?

    • 123clear says:

      Thank you for this question, Sheriece. It raised an intriguing issue for me.

      According to the online Wiktionary (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/attire), the plural form of attire is attires. I have never come across attires before, but it makes sense to me.

      So, since the groom and best man each have their own set of clothing, I suggest using “The groom’s and best man’s attires.”

      Cheers,
      Tara

  20. Baset says:

    Hi
    Is this phrase correct?
    The child’s relative’s details

    • 123clear says:

      This phrase is technically correct, but it raises many questions. What relatives? Mother and father? Siblings? Cousins? Details about what? Please clarify. I’m curious.
      Tara

  21. Baset says:

    Hi
    Thank you for reply. I want to state the issue in a different way.
    The child’s father owns a company. Can we say the sentence in this way?
    The child’s father’s company.
    Thank you

    • 123clear says:

      “The child’s father’s company” isn’t a sentence. It’s just the subject, and in order to qualify as a sentence, every subject needs a predicate.

      “The child’s father owns a company” is a sentence. “The child’s father” is the subject, “owns a company” is the predicate.

      If you’d like more details about “subject” and “predicate,” an easy way to get lots of examples is to search the Internet.

      Tara

  22. Mike says:

    Been searching everywhere for this rule, thanks!!!!

  23. shobana says:

    here groom’s brother is inviting for the wedding and the sentence will be like:

    You work, you play
    and then, one day…
    love just happens!
    Antony
    invites you to be a witness
    ——-to one of brother’s lifes’ loveliest——
    surprises as
    Jennifer
    and
    Wifred are joined together in reception
    on tuesday, the 28th of August ’12
    at seven o’clock in the evening
    «««address content»»»

    need clarity on the sentence highlighted with hyphens (-)

    thanx

    • 123clear says:

      Hi, Antony.

      Thank you for your question about this wonderful event.

      First, here are a couple of things you may want to add to the invitation:
      *The date, time, and address of the wedding (the invitation only gives the date and time of the reception)
      *The address of the reception
      *Jennifer’s and Wilfred’s last names
      *So that you will know how many people to plan for, an RSVP: A request for a response to the invitation, along with contact information

      As for the possessive with two nouns, I don’t think it’s necessary. Here’s how I would word the invitation:

      You work, you play
      and then, one day…
      love just happens!

      Antony, Wilfred’s brother, invites you to witness one of life’s loveliest surprises as Jennifer and Wilfred are joined together.

      Wedding: Date, Time, Address
      Reception: Tuesday, the 28th of August 2012, seven o’clock in the evening, Address

      Cheers,
      Tara

  24. Mickey says:

    What is the correct way to state: Both men’s and women’s gloves are sold upstairs. And the second one; That blue car with white stripes is theirs. Thanks

  25. Confused says:

    I love how precise the help you provide us struggling writers with is!

    Could you please help me out with this mind-boggling dilemma:
    I wish to mention two parties in a single sentence:
    1) Peter’s father
    2) Peter’s father’s grandnephew

    Which of the following should the sentence be?:
    a) It is Peter’s father and grandnephew.
    b) It is Peter’s father and his grandnephew.
    c) It is Peter’s father and his father’s grandnephew.
    d) It is Peter’s father and Peter’s father’s grandnephew.

    Unfortunately, I do not know the name of Peter’s father and hence am not able to write simply “Pete and his grandnephew”.

    Thank you for your help! It is definitely much appreciated.

    • 123clear says:

      In order to get anywhere with this dilemma, you need to come up with a complete sentence, which consists of a both a subject and a predicate.

      What you have sent is the subject: Peter’s father and the grandnephew of Peter’s father. Add the predicate, and things will be more clear.

      Examples:
      Peter’s father, and a grandnewphew of Peter’s father, are leaving for Europe tomorrow morning.

      Or you may want to put it like this:
      Peter’s father and one of Peter’s distant cousins are leaving for Europe tomorrow morning.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Tara

  26. Joe says:

    Sorry if I missed an example of this… I have a sentence where we discuss a man named Bob whose father has family photos. I had written, “We were trying to locate Bob’s father’s pictures during that visit.” (The pictures are owned by the father; Bob is his son.) Thanks!

    • 123clear says:

      Hi, Joe.

      This is good. Another option, to clarify “during that visit”:

      During that visit, we were trying to locate Bob’s father’s collection of family photos.

      Cheers,
      Tara

  27. Mpie says:

    What about two possessives using or? I want to write “you may contact the bride or groom’s parents…” At first I thought it might be the same as “and” and should be “the bride’s and groom’s parents” but I was wondering if the “or” made a difference? Thanks!

    • 123clear says:

      Unless the bride and groom are committing incest at a very high level, the proper usage is as follows:

      You may contact the bride’s or groom’s parents.

      Another option:

      You may contact either the bride’s or the groom’s parents.

      The deciding factor is whether or not the bride and the groom have the same parents.

      Remember the rule:

      When two nouns possess different entities, both possessives take an apostrophe.

      Cheers,
      Tara

      • john from the north says:

        Hello!
        What if one of the subjects is me?
        For example, I want to talk about how my father and I are opening up our new car repair shoppe.
        Would I say “My father and mine’s shop?” “My father and I’s shop?” Both sound terribly wrong. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
        Thanks!

      • 123clear says:

        Just leave it as it is, John from the north. This is a perfectly fine, clear, and grammatically correct sentence: “My father and I are opening up our new car repair shoppe.”

        Tara

  28. Thanks for this. Where in the Chicago manual did you find this rule? I have the 16th edition, and I haven’t been able to find it. Thanks!

  29. Karasi says:

    Have i punctuated the below sentence correctly? If not, can you advise me please. Thank you
    This week’s managers’ meeting has been rescheduled.

    • 123clear says:

      Please forgive the delay! Somehow, I missed your comment.

      Short answer: yes, the sentence you asked about is fine. It would also be correct like this:

      The managers’ meeting for this week has been rescheduled.

      Cheers,
      Tara

  30. Bashiru says:

    (Thankful) I am happy to give my comment on this page. Because, it actually lit and showed me the way out of my doubts, on the correct usage of the “possessive” in relation to two “nouns” in a sentence.

    What actually induced me to look it up, was when an uncle asked me to text him my parents’ cell phone numbers. And that actually got me caught in the web of using the (ibid:) “possessive” that way.

    After sending it, I began to have doubts about my expression therein. Although, in the back of my mind, my subconscious assured me that I was correct in my grammar. But, the other me, was simply a doubting Thomas, in order to reconcile all this, I decided to look it up (via google). Thereafter, I furthered my search that ultimately brought me to this oasis (saving website).

    (This site) Thank you so much for being in existence. Especially, for saving me from “doubts”. Thanks.

  31. Stefanie says:

    Neat and clear. Excellent job!

  32. L says:

    Very much appreciate your clear explanations!

    Tossing out another one for you…

    —————–

    One last item for both Tom (Tom’s?) and Jerry’s consideration.

    —————–

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • 123clear says:

      Hm. Interesting. After some consideration, my vote is for “One last item for both Tom and Jerry’s consideration.” This because there is just one item for consideration.

      Best,
      Tara

      • cherie haines says:

        Because it is 2 people’s consideration and therefore 2 separate considerations it would be Tom’s and Jerry’s consideration.

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

      • 123clear says:

        Actually, in that case it would be “Tom’s and Jerry’s considerations.”

        Cheers,
        Tara

  33. hiba says:

    How do i write this phrase using possessive nouns : the house of Mary’s mother ?
    Is it correct to say Mary’s mother house ?

    • 123clear says:

      It would be Mary’s mother’s house, and it sounds really awkward! But so does “the house of Mary’s mother.”

      Easier and less awkward in a complete sentence:

    • On Friday, Mary will visit her mother in her new home.
    • When Mary was in Detroit on business, she stayed at her mother’s house.
    • Cheers,
      Tara

  34. J says:

    Hi.
    What about If two people with the same name (ex: Walker), say father and son, possess the same thing?
    Should it be Walker’s idea or Walkers’ idea?

    Thanks!

  35. I have one that one of the earlier responses didn’t get–if the two people in the sentence are possessing the same thing? The bride’s or groom’s parents above doesn’t quite get to that because it’s two sets of parents.

    Example: The system will allow you to monitor your son’s or daughter’s class attendance.

    What do you do in a sentence like that with an “or” not an “and” and one thing to possess? Son’s just sounds weird to me. Son or daughter’s feels more natural. But it might feel natural because I’ve been saying it wrong for years.

    I appreciate your help. Thank you!

    • 123clear says:

      First, don’t worry too much about being right or wrong. Just say what feels right to you.

      I still prefer “son’s or daughter’s class attendance.” My reasoning is that it’s unlikely that the son and daughter are in the same class. Unless, perhaps, they are twins.
      Cheers,
      Tara

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