Joint Possessives in English Posted by Gary Locke on Dec 10, 2020 in English Grammar, English Language, Speaking English
Before COVID-19, sharing was considered to be positive and admirable. It was seen as an act of caring, kindness, and selflessness. Whether it was a dessert at a restaurant or a ride service to a hotel, sharing was a nice thing to do.
But now, there’s a lot less sharing in the world. Unless you live in the same household, chances are you don’t share much with others. You might share a secret, a birthday, or a joke, but physical objects are off-limits. We hope that this changes soon so that we can all go back to sharing sandwiches and umbrellas again. And when this happens, we all will need to know the grammatical rules for compound or joint possessives.
We typically use an apostrophe to show possession in English. To show possession with a singular noun, we use apostrophe-s.
- Kyle’s motorcycle
- My boss’s computer
- The hotel’s lobby
Let’s talk about sharing a noun, like that ride service I mentioned earlier. Kyra and Emily are going to take a Lyft to a meeting in the city. If they are sharing the Lyft, then they can also share the same possessive form – in this case, an apostrophe-S.
- Kyra and Emily’s Lyft got them to the meeting on time.
No matter how many are sharing a single noun, the apostrophe -S goes before the noun. If Kyra’s friend Mike and Emily’s brother Mark are also along for the ride, then Kyra, Mike, Emily, and Mark’s Lyft got them to the meeting. If anyone else is taking the same Lyft, then the car is overcrowded.
But what if Kyra and Emily are taking two separate rides to that same meeting? Now you’re talking about plural nouns – two riders and two Lyfts. They aren’t sharing, so they each need their own apostrophe.
- Kyra’s and Emily’s Lyfts got them to the meeting on time.
These same rules of sharing apply to all nouns. It can be Lyfts, birthdays, principles – anything that’s a noun.
- Kyra and Emily’s interests were very similar.
- Kyra’s and Emily’s birthdays were only a week apart.
What if Kyra is talking on her cellphone about her plans with Emily after the meeting? They’re going to take an Uber to a restaurant. Kyra will likely mix a pronoun with a noun.
- “Emily’s and my Uber has to arrive no later than 8 PM.”
They may be sharing the same Uber, but now that nouns and pronouns are being mixed, one possessive isn’t enough. Both the noun and the pronoun have to be possessive. Emily, the noun, takes the possessive form with the apostrophe-S, and the pronoun equally needs the possessive form – my.
But, we’re dealing with English, and sometimes proper English doesn’t sound right. It’s awkward to say, “Emily’s and my…” despite the fact that it’s a correct use of the language. We want to change the way we say it. Often, that means using more words to make your point.
- “The Uber that Emily and I are taking must arrive no later than 8 PM.”
English is fascinating, isn’t it? And maddening. You have to constantly weigh the value of proper grammar with how it sounds to your ear. Both sentences are correct, but which one sounds more like common speech? The choice is yours.
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