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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

eaglesight777 June 5, 2009, 12:33pm

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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."

BrockawayBaby July 29, 2011, 3:25pm

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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.

Hairy Scot August 1, 2011, 5:29pm

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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?

BrockawayBaby August 6, 2011, 1:16pm

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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!)

Grmrtchr April 18, 2012, 3:12pm

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

Hairy Scot August 7, 2011, 12:43am

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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.

BrockawayBaby July 29, 2011, 3:45pm

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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. :)

eaglesight777 December 17, 2009, 2:48am

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

dms726 June 17, 2009, 2:47pm

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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.

BrockawayBaby August 6, 2011, 1:49pm

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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.

kyule June 29, 2009, 1:40am

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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>

mykhailo June 6, 2009, 6:18pm

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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?

steve3 December 14, 2009, 8:04pm

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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.

big November 20, 2010, 5:37pm

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

BrockawayBaby August 10, 2011, 12:05am

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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!

Brennan June 11, 2012, 4:41pm

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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.

Geo July 15, 2011, 8:05am

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What a horror of incorrect usage of the English language. My comment isn't a comment on the writer, but rather my reaction to sheer number of incorrect usages of the English language, and the educational system that allows a person to pass a class while not grasping the material.

There's no such thing as, 'more correct', there is correct and incorrect, and in some cases, preferred or non-preferred.

It is, passersby, not passerbys. The plural of the word is used on the root or main word, in this case, passer. It's like using the plural of attorney general, which is attorneys general, not attorney generals. It's the word attorney that is plural, not the word general.

And there is no such thing as a general concensus. By definition a concensus is a general, or majority opinion or agreement.

I hoping that you're very young. I suspect not though, as these words are generally not used by very young people. What concerns me is that I hear people say, or read comments where they think that if they are, "...not in English class, what difference does it make?" as to whether their use of English is utterly garbled. If you don't understand the correct use of English, you'll not be able to fully comprehend any reading that you may undertake (and reading is fun), or may need to do. You will not understand the world around you nearly as well as someone who knows and understands the correct usage of the language. I see some words so rarely used outside of good literature these days, and these are not obscure words, that if I use such a word in my writing, autocorrect or whichever grammar or spell-check program is functioning, will try to change my word to an incorrect form of the word for the context in which I'm using it.

Failing to understand the correct usage of English, makes the same difference as using math incorrectly. Incorrect English is propagated by its incorrect usage. Allowing our language or the knowledge of it to degenerate will continue a spiral, resulting in people struggling to understand each other. There's little in life more important than the ability to communicate with others effectively.

Laurie December 3, 2015, 12:43am

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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.

Passer-by November 19, 2014, 1:29am

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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.

Troy C Nelson February 20, 2013, 4:35pm

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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!

JerryT July 30, 2013, 11:27am

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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.

Jesten Tice November 13, 2014, 2:53am

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Ok, if we still can't figure out the official rule after more than seven years of the world's greatest Ph.D. Grammar Tyrants arguing, I'm just going to assume the rule doesn't matter enough to really care. I'll just say "someone else's" and "passersby." Good enough. English is technically a second language for me anyway, so I have an excuse. Haha, just kidding... I actually speak English better than my first language now (Nynorsk).

Laurie, your post literally made me laugh out loud. I won't understand the world around me, and I won't be able to understand what I'm reading unless I've learned perfect English? Ummm, no, but thanks for the laugh! My skills in English were only so-so until my early 20s, but I understood my world and books quite well long before then, thank you! I am not trying to pretend my grammar is commendable, so I'm allowed to make mistakes, but you really should proofread what you write if you're going to be that pretentious and patronizing. (You made several errors.) Also, if language did not evolve, we would still be talking like Shakespeare. But hey, as long as you have that terrific view from the top of you high horse, what do you care?

Brockaway, eaglesight, Warsaw, mike, cosmic, and others brought up some very interesting points, and I do appreciate all of your thoughts. Thank you. But a few of you really need to relax :)

English is fun! (shoot me)

Ida September 17, 2016, 4:26pm

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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.

Jeremy Wheeler November 15, 2012, 10:45am

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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".

Warsaw Will November 16, 2012, 6:40am

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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.

mike storer January 3, 2013, 11:19pm

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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).

Warsaw Will June 29, 2013, 6:01am

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

Warsaw Will June 30, 2013, 4:23am

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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.

BrockwayBaby August 26, 2012, 10:35am

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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)

Warsaw Will August 27, 2012, 10:49am

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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.

WellSid August 27, 2012, 7:42pm

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"Else" can be an adjective or adverb, we can agree. But would it be improper to recognize certain usages as being an indefinite noun, or as a compound noun as in "somewhere" (both an adverb and a noun) as it relates to "somewhere else"? Both are indefinite places, only "somewhere else" is an indefinite place other than the indefinite place referred to as "somewhere". Is one of those more definite than the other? A mathematician using logic and set theory might give a different answer than a grammarian. But either way it seems like a trivial question of no substantive import.
Maybe we can accept variations of syntax and spelling as having a preferred status (according to the source) without the requirement that one form be labeled incorrect from a literary or scholarly perspective. Sure makes life a little easier and less contentious, unless one is obsessively compelled to accept only black-and-white, all-or-nothing single versions, which gets really complicated since most words have more than one definition. The bottom line is whether the message is easily understood by all or most readers, (and whether there are any penalties or adverse consequences which an administrative authority may impose). And if it has the additional factors of consistency and commonly accepted versions, so much the better. Eventually, most languages undergo changes in some way or else another. (I refuse to even try to analyze that usage.)

cosmic.revision July 25, 2016, 4:24am

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I Googl'd & hit this site too. I found it cute & shared it via my Facebook Timeline for others to enjoy as well. This is the kind of site on which you'd expect to find comments from like-minded people (probably mostly INTJ, per MBTI type testing), which I think I did. =)

So... still wonder why MS Office & yahoomail don't recognize "someone else's" as correct. Wasn't that the original question that started this site? ;)

Thanks, regardless. I found reading comments from y'all... fun (teasing).


Shel Lynn May 12, 2015, 3:52pm

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else's is technically incorrect. I hate to disagree with all your other comments, and it is certainly common usage, but it is incorrect. In speech it is awkward, in writing this is the correct usage:
somebody's else
anybody's else
nobody's else
etc. therefore MS Windows is correct when spell check underlines it.

Stephen B. March 15, 2017, 8:13pm

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

Hmmmm November 13, 2012, 6:41pm

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The easiest way to avoid the use of "someone else's" (which is grammatically incorrect), is to put the NOUN, with which you are linking the possessive, FIRST in the sentence.
For example: "It was someone else's fault." (incorrect)
"It was the fault of someone else." (correct)
This works every time when you write, but for conversational speech, "someone else's" is the common usage. However, if you are quoting what was spoken by someone else, then you would want to quote it exactly.

vagabondwahine March 26, 2017, 11:22am

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The grammar patterns of Courts Martial, Judge Advocates General, etc. would seem to agree. In example, those who pass flatulence would be "gas passers" or passers of gas, just as passers by, which is short for an entire phrase "passers by the side of [implied or mentioned object]" is different. However, "someone else" appears to hearken back to a more Germanic form of grammar, rather than the French Norman with its Latin influence. If this is the origin of the phrase, then using the entire phrase as a single noun or idea would be appropriate. In this case, where both words originate from the Germanic, it would be "someone else's". The Germans frequently abbreviate such phrases where they become excessively long, but in their original were written as one word using their cursive. In school I studied French, Classical Latin, and German enough to become aware that our aggregatenous language has so many exceptions because of those origins. (I have dabbled with Gaelic which is as far as I can tell the source of split infinitives.)

Kenneth W. Slayor March 26, 2017, 5:50pm

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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...

Lexi June 26, 2013, 11:40pm

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

Skeeter Lewis January 4, 2013, 1:38am

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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..

Warsaw Will January 4, 2013, 10:14am

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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.

jack et. al. June 28, 2013, 7:23pm

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

Warsaw Will June 29, 2013, 6:03am

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

Troy C Nelson February 20, 2013, 4:36pm

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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

John Gibson February 21, 2013, 2:47am

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@BrockwayBaby If you read carefully, you'll see that Grmrtchr never said that 'passersby' is a verb + adjective construction. Their point was that neither 'passersby' nor 'touchdown' is a noun + adjective construction (despite the apparent assumptions to the contrary of both eaglesight777 and yourself). Indeed, one of the main points in Grmrtchr's post is that 'by' in this context is not an adjective, but rather a preposition or an adverb. The other main point there is about nominalization of verb + adverb constructions. But you seem to have acknowledged that point, even if you do not find it decisive.

Zack Dergen September 18, 2015, 1:24am

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A local TV station has a segment called "The Turko Files." The "anchors" persist in announcing, "the Turko Files are next." Eeeek!

WT May 11, 2016, 1:11am

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What part of speech is "else's" as in someone else's ?

Barrie November 2, 2016, 7:12pm

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An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.

Don June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

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Correct form: passers-by. Why? Because "passer" is a noun and it can be made plural and because passer-by is hyphenated!! "Standoffs" is normal because it is not.
Also, check a reliable, good dictionary:

Livia December 19, 2016, 4:08am

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Yes     No