Submitted by Dyske on June 4, 2009

Someone else’s

Is “someone else’s” grammatically correct? Every time I type, the spell-checker reminds me that it’s wrong.

There are a lot of discussions online about “passers-by” vs. “passer-bys”. The general consensus, from what I saw, is that the former is more correct. If this is true, shouldn’t it be “someone’s else”?

I personally feel that “passer-bys” is more correct, especially when you remove the hyphen (”passerbys”). It’s more consistent with other words like “blastoffs” and “playoffs”.


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"Someone else's" is correct if you are referring to an item that belongs to someone else. E.g., "This is someone else's blog entry."

The correct plural for "passer-by" is "passers-by". This is because the word "by" is being used as an adjective modifying the noun "passer". The noun is the word that is being pluralized.

In most cases in English the adjective goes before the noun, but in compound nouns such as "passer-by", "attorney general", and "mother-in-law", the adjective is used to modify the noun, so it is not pluralized. I've found it helps to mentally treat the adjective as a separate element from the noun, or place it in the usual position for an adjective, when trying to determine the plural. Thus we have:

One passer-by (one by-passer, one passer going by)
Two passers-by

One attorney general (one general attorney)
Two attorneys general

One mother-in-law (one person who is by law my mother)
Two mothers-in-law

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The justifications of "passersby" as the proper plural is silly. I know the grammar tyrants like to think it's correct, but think about the following: the word "playoff" is made up, like "passerby," of a noun (passer) and an adjective (by). Under the grammar tyrant rule, the plural of "playoff" should actually be "playsoff." The following other terms are also made up of a noun and an adjective, and would also be pluralized in the same silly way if the "passersby" people had their way:

one push up - two pushes up (sits up, pulls up, etc.)
one goofoff - two goofsoff
one timeout - two timesout
one liftoff - two liftsoff
one faceoff - two facesoff
one shut in - two shuts in
one run in (e.g., with the police) - two runs in

My advice is that you should do it whichever way you want, just be consistent. If you grammar tyrants get your way, and we end up pluralizing the way you suggest we do, don't be surprised when you hear yourselves referred to as "jerksoff."

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Fascinating discussion! Found the link to see what objections there might be to "someone else's," as in "I think this is someone else's pen, not mine! I don't chew my pens." Someone's else can never be correct - that would mean that someone possesses an else... hmm - what is an else? However, someone else is some person other than the speaker, the other interlocutor, or some person previously mentioned in the conversation or text.
Passersby! See - no red squiggle! If the freaking morons who create spell-checkers (and they're not morons, but they can be pains in the ass (hold on to that idea) think passersby is correct, it must be!
Touchdowns. Yes - but that is one word. Not touchesdown. See - red squiggle! But BrockawayBaby, your logic is flawed - interesting, but flawed. Let's look back at the discussion (I know - it's 8 months old - so what?). Eagle... said passers-by is a noun + adjective construction, but it is not. Neither is touchdown. By can be used as a preposition, of course, but also as an adverb. It answers the question "Where did the passers pass?" They passed by something, somewhere, etc. A touchdown is a similar construction - the score occurs when the player touches down in the end zone. Verb + adverb. But, the word touchdown is no longer a verb + adverb. It has become a one word noun, so of course its plural is touchdowns. Most of the nouns Brock uses are verb + adverb combos that have become common nouns. A push up is a form of exercise in which one does pushups. No red squiggly line!
But you COULD say, "After several pushes up the stairs, we stopped for breath; that's when that old refrigerator came sliding back down the stairs and crushed... " We gave the X several pushes! Up, down, etc.
So - work on this: I have two mothers-in-law, having been married twice. I walked into a room of mother-in-laws! What an odd convention! I'll bet you no more than a nickel, Brock-o-baby, that both are correct - and I really have no idea why... yet!
Someone else's turn! (Stupid squiggly red line!)

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The use of phrases like "in America', or "in the US", or "according to Webster's" tends to destroy the credibility of any argument about spelling or grammar.

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That's interesting. Do you have an authority to cite, hairyscot, or are you just making stuff up so that you don't have to address the substance of my argument? I find it funny that you think a grammar issue can be decided by my use of a single phrase. But for fun I'll go along with your evasion by saying that, in the U.S., hairyscot is good at argumentation. (Also, aren't you really talking about someone who makes a sweeping statement with those phrases, rather than someone who simply designates the location of a space program?) I really only have one question for hairyscot and anyone else who would like to reply: is there something wrong with my explanation of the grammar involved in pluralizing certain terms?

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A reformed grammar tyrant myself, I must correct the first line of my previous post. It should read instead, "The justifications of 'passersby' as the proper plural are silly." And I would also like to add the following: should we also be forced to say that a wide receiver scored two "touchesdown" during a football game? When we had a space program in the U.S., I never heard a news reporter say that several attempted "countsdown" were interrupted before the launch was successful.

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I also have a sense of humour, which it seems is something you both lack.

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I think you are correct, Scott. English is far more flexible than most people realize, even those who think of themselves as experts in grammar. Thank you for the breath of fresh air.

And do not worry about the comment from Hairyscot. It is clear that she or he wants to avoid addressing your argument, which I do not understand given the interesting points you raise.

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I'm ready--say something funny, HaryScot. Do not keep us waiting ;)

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Grammarteacher (sorry, I'm a stickler for vowels) beat me by two months in refuting BrockawayBaby's claims, and much more elegantly than I could have. Actually, I have nothing to add to this conversation other than admiration for the previous post. I should probably just navigate away from this page...

Whoops! Wrong button!

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Jesten, your knowledge is as vast as any of your other virtues...
So give an answer that mathces the original question or shut the f**k up.
Go re-examine someone else's page.

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Contrary to common belief, the words "they" and "their" have been used as indeterminate singular pronouns for centuries in English. If you believe in prescriptivism in language then the use of "they" as a singular pronoun is perfectly correct.

However, in the above sentence "her" would have been appropriate. :)

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Don't waste my time or anyone else's...
for some reason that eludes me by browser highlights "else's" as though it is incorrect...
It isn't.

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One small note: "passerby" and "passersby" do not have hyphens (according to Webster's dictionary)

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My first reaction was that I agreed with yello.cape.cod's conclusion but not their argument. After all, "Someone else", like "attorney general", is a noun (well, pronoun, but close enough) plus a trailing adjective, so gee, why aren't the two constructions the same?

Oh. Right: "Someone else's" is a possessive. "Attorneys general" is a plural. Never mind.

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"General consensus" is not a redundancy, surely? It is specifying a consensus generally, as opposed to a consensus of a narrow class.

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@Hmmmm - redundancy has nothing to do with grammar; it's about style and usage. And in informal discourse there's nothing wrong with a bit of redundancy here and there. In fact in spoken language it often helps understanding.This preoccupation some people have with redundancy is really quite beyond me - it's part of what I think of as "English by numbers".

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There seem to be two completely different questions here - someone else's and passers-by.

I see that my browser is red-lining the former, but I can think of no reason why - of course it's correct. Here's Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage - "In present-day English, compound pronouns with else -*anybody else, somebody else etc take the the -'s of the possessive on the *else* ". It seems that spellcheckers are about a hundred years behind the time on this one.

As has been pointed out, passer-by is sometimes hyphenated (British dictionaries), and sometimes not (in some American dictionaries), yet it's the passer part that always gets the S. So whether or not it's hyphenated is not where the answer lies.

Incidentally, *by* here, is not an adjective, but an adverb. As are the second parts in the examples such as *push ups* that BrockawayBaby gives.

And as Brockaway Baby shows, compound nouns ending in adverbs usually take the s at the end; passers-by seems to be a bit of an exception here.

And the S goes doesn't depend on the the grammatical nature of the components either. For example, from the phrasal verb break out, we get outbreaks, but also breakouts. On the former the verb part gets the S, on the latter, it's the adverb that gets it.

With compound nouns made up of two nouns or an adjective and noun combination, its is usually the the second word that is pluralised, but not always:

major-generals and staff sergeants, but attorneys general and sergeants-major - it depends on which word is classifying which - a major-general is a type of general and a staff sergeant a type of sergeant, but an attorney general is a type of attorney and a sergeant-major is also a type of sergeant. Other examples of the second type - Knights Templar, courts-martial.

We have to think what the main word in the compound is, rather than position. So we have mothers-in-law, but stepmothers and grandmothers, all types of mother.

Also, things change - traditionally it was teaspoonsful (which I would probably say, but which is being red-lined). Increasingly, however, people are saying teaspoonfuls (which my browser seems to prefer).

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Yes, "someone else's" and "passers-by" is correct.

There's nothing to add to <strong>yello.cape.cod's</strong> explanation. ;)

Just one more thing:
Whose: <em>mother-in-law's</em>

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Interesting sleight of hand, Grmrtchr.

Our impasse regards identifying parts of speech. You understand--and treat in your post-- 'passerby' and 'touchdown' as verb + adjective constructions. While you may be able to make that argument with 'touchdown' because of the ambiguity between 'a touch' (noun) and 'to touch' (verb), the same argument cannot be made with passerby. 'Passer' is clearly a noun--there is no such verb as 'to passer.' 'By,' therefore must be understood as either a preposition or an adjective.

In the case of 'touchdown' and many other of my examples, the noun/verb argument may be a fruitful one, but it is not as clear cut as you assert. You say that 'touch' is clearly a verb. You say that we can tell because you can ask a question like, "Where did the passers pass?" Here you have inserted a verb, 'pass' and conflated it with the noun 'passer.' If this is a verb + adverb construction, then the verb is 'pass,' the adverb is 'by' and the compound is 'passby' not 'passerby.' Here you have failed to prove your point.

In the case of 'touchdown,' as I mentioned above, you have a point. It is possible to understand 'touch,' here, as a verb. But it is also possible to consider it a noun: the player scores by a 'touch' within the end zone. Where is the touch (understood here as a noun)? He or she made the touch down on the field in the end zone.

Similarly, my other examples seem to be open to the same ambiguity you are seizing on to make your argument. Thank you for pointing that out. It is instructive, but it is far from refuting the noun + adjective construction for which I have argued.

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When it comes to compound nouns, you can see some general principles, as have been discussed above, but there are many exceptions. You simply cannot draw up a hard and fast rule which covers everything. This is when you really do need a dictionary. See (scroll down to plurals)

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Good call, Warsaw Will.

Obvious that BrockawayBaby is open to both sides. I wish we all could be more open to some of the ambiguity in English.

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Playoffs are a specific, named event (A proper noun, if you will), and I've never heard "Blastoff" used as a plural.

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You have two mother's in law?
Perhaps you are you in Utah,
Not that it's a flaw,
But I would call one a grandmaw!

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This is the first time I have stumbled onto a page on this domain. I had an English syntax question which I queried Google with, and I ended up here. Even though the topic posted here is not quite the same as my question, I took the opportunity to read the reaponses out of curiosity for what was taking place here. I didn't get past the first answer, the top voted response, as it is full of grammar mistakes and I just can't take anything here seriously now. Owners/moderators of this page: you may want to reexamine your idea.

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the costruction
"...yello.cape.cod’s conclusion but not their argument"
is confusing.
does THEIR mean the person named (if so use singular her or his) or does it mean the group of other posters?

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someone who uses the redundant general consensus is giving advice on grammar? interesting

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To BrockawayBaby (and those who commented with regards to Baby's first comment);
Passer-by is a hyphenated word.
Playoff (like blastoff) has been reduced to a single word, without hyphen.
The plural of passer-by is passers-by, just as simply as it was described above (although I do admit it even sounds strange at first). I mean, we can all see it. Mothers-in-law; anti-inflammatories, etc.
However, for words like playoff or blastoff, they are not hyphenated words, and as such, would only be pluralized at the ending. After all, in any other such case with compound words, when would you randomly insert an S into it? Breakdown would be breakdowns, not breaksdown; countrysides, not countriesside.
Anyway, correct me if I'm wrong and I know I'm 4 years late to this party...

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Nobody above has mentioned the added level of awkwardness when it comes to the possessive forms of these words.. and it gets even worse with the possessive plurals.
You get these:

Both of the sisters'-in-law families attended the wedding. That just sounds bizarre.
Who would ever say: All passers'-by faces fell when they saw what was happening in the street.

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'Passers-by' and yet 'passer-by's'. I got an ignorant red squiggle because of that closing inverted comma!

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@mike storer - I agree with you, whoever would? I'd simply change to possessive "of" in these cases - "The faces of all the passers-by fell ...", "The families of both the sisters-in-law ..". Seems somewhat clearer and reads better, I think..

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Lexi, your post raises a good question: is passer-by hyphenated?

Some dictionaries list is as a compound word and others list is as hyphenated. The strange thing is that, even when it is listed as a compound word (as in Merriam Webster's online dictionary), the plural is made by inserting an 's' into the word, making the plural of 'passerby' (the compound version) 'passersby' in direct contradiction of what you are saying.

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Sorry, that should read - And where the S goes doesn't depend on the grammatical nature of the components either.

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Two more exceptions like passers-by - hangers-on and runners-up

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...eludes me"comma" my browser...

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This, a big hit in the UK charts of 1960, answers your question:

Someone else's baby
Someone else's eyes are blue
Someone else's baby
Someone else's five-foot-two

Oh, who's got a hold up
Nine carat gold love
I wonder who's in the loveseat
Who's got a heartbeat, like thunder

If I acted bad
I could steal his fairy queen
I know he'll be mad
But I can't resist the thought of being kissed

By someone else's baby
Someone else's special date
Someone else's baby
Someone else is kinda late

He'd better mind out
She's gonna find out I love her
This little fellah is gonna tell her
That someone else is me

Well, if I acted bad
I could steal his fairy queen
I know he'll be mad
But I can't resist the thought of being kissed

By someone else's baby
Someone else's special date
Someone else's baby
Someone else is kinda late

Oh, he'd better mind out
She's gonna find out I love her
This little fellow is gonna tell her
That someone else is me

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Though (I suppose) this thread is closed, may I add that, for me, "someone else's" is quite clearly a reference in the "possessive" sense, rather than "plural" sense.
On the other hand and as has been already discussed, "passer-by" and "passers-by" (hyphens may be incorrect as has been pointed out) are references with respect to numbers, being singular and plural.
If a speaker/writer wanted to make a plural reference still maintaining the "possessive" sense that is meant by "someone else's", definitely the word "someone" will have to change to some other word, maybe not even one single word as I can think of. Like "Some other people's" or something else.

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