Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More


I constantly see apostrophes used in ways I believe are incorrect. I am wondering anyone can confirm for me, though. For example, I often see “Temperatures will reach the high 90′s today...”

Aren’t apostrophes only used to show possession or in contractions? For example, “This sweet ride isn’t (cont.) mine; it’s (cont) Jessica’s (poss).”

Also, how would I word something to the effect that everyone is coming to the house that my husband, Mike, and I own?

“Everyone is coming to Mike’s and my house.”?

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You are correct. I recommend you read a charming, funny grammar book called "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" which raises this misuse issue among others. The author carries a black marker with her to correct such errors at the grocery store (apple's for sale)!

I also hate seeing "in the 90's" rather than "90s" and "I got all A's" instead of "all As," but more and more people are doing it that way. A lot of grammar pundits have given up correcting it. So let's say it's not the best usage practice, but an awful lot of people who should know no longer see it as wrong.

_Janet Aug-15-2007

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Janet, sorry, but I believe you are totally incorrect, both grammatically and historically. The traditional rule for apostrophes has always been to also include using them for forming plurals with numbers, single letters, abbreviations or acronyms, and when pluralizing words where the word itself is used abstractly as a noun (e.g. "here is a list of do's for the occasion"). Such usage avoids confusion, e.g., in "how many i's are in the word 'imprint'?", using i's avoids confusion with the word "is". Also, when abbreviating years, for example, this one, one should write '07 (but the 90's is correct as a plural). As for your comment that more and more people are doing it, exactly the opposite is true. The rule for these extra uses of apostrophes is actually the older one. The movement to avoid such usage is recent, and the traditional use is sometimes criticized as being old-fashioned. Appropriate use of quotation marks instead is often recommended.

porsche Aug-15-2007

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At least in reporting, that is, AP Style, we try to avoid using extraneous punctuation wherever we can, and I'm of a mind that "90s" rather than "90's" looks more elegant. But that's personal bias.

I would advise that you used apostrophes today only when they are needed to avoid confusion, as with "They all got A's on the test." Without the apostrophe, as porsche said, the word could be confused with "as."

As for your possessive problem, I think what you've got is technically correct, but I'm not sure. I recommend rewording in a way that avoids the problem, like saying "our house" and then clarifying with another sentence as needed.

becker Aug-16-2007

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Porsche is right. The Oxford Companion to the English Language, in the entry for "apostrophe," notes that all the following uses of the apostrophe are standard:

with letters
dot your i’s and cross your t’s

do’s and don’ts


family names
the Jones’s

John4 Aug-17-2007

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The possessive suffix is a clitic, which means it can attach not just to words, but to phrases. There's nothing wrong with "The queen of Sheba's pearls".

John4 Aug-23-2007

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The possessive apostrophe is hard when there is a whole phrase who is owning something. For example, it has been pointed out to me that it's "The queen's of Sheba pearls" and not "The queen of Sheba's pearls", although the former sounds completely ridicolous. What odd rule is this?

CTP Aug-23-2007

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Who told you that, CTP? "The queen of Sheba's pearls" is perfectly correct. "The queen's of Sheba pearls" is incorrect. David is right. -'s can be added to a phrase. Yes, the pearls belong to the queen, not to Sheba, but that's irrelevant to the grammar.

porsche Aug-23-2007

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John and Porsche are right, CTP. "The Queen of Sheba" is called a noun phrase. It should be treated as if the entire phrase was a single noun. See:

anonymous4 Aug-25-2007

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actually, instead of writing "Everyone is coming to Mike's and my house" why not just write, "Everyone is coming to me and Mike's house"? I'm finding it more acceptable these days to put "Me" first- as in "Here is a picture of me and Anne" instead of "Here is a picture of Anne and I". It sounds less precocious, and is not incorrect- just more formal.

Wordsmith78 Aug-25-2007

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What is wrong with saying "Everyone is coming to my/our house?" I understand that you seek a way to properly express that you and your husband both own the house, but in this case, it seems understood.
If you must clarify that the house belongs to you and Mike, consider:
"Everyone is coming to Mike's/my husband's and my house."
"Mike and I are hosting a party at our house."
"Mike and I are having everyone over."

Nitpick: Wordsmith, the correct phrase is "Here is a picture of Anne and me," not "Here is a picture of Anne and I." Would you say "Here is a picture of I?"

anonymous4 Aug-28-2007

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While we're at it, Wordsmith, " and Mike's house" does not mean the same thing as "...Mike's and my house". "me" must be "my", the possesive. It is MY house, too, not ME house (unless you're a pirate):

Actually, "everyone is coming over to me and Mike's house", technically means that everyone is coming to me to be in my presence (not necessarily in anyone's house) and then, before, after, or during, they are going over to Mike's house. This is not what Amanda intended.

As for putting "me" first, it's usually considered bad grammar, but if you accept it as syntactically correct, it is still something to be avoided because it is considered rude, even in informal speech.

Lastly, even if it were correct (which it's not), why would you recommend it over Amanda's version? There's no advantage. It certainly isn't any clearer or more concise.

Amanda, if you think "Everyone is coming to Mike's and my house" sounds stilted, why not just say "Everyone is coming to our house"? I'm sure most everyone invited knows who you are.

Just a gut feeling, but I think few would say "Mike's and my house" unless Mike were not a spouse, but a completely unrelated person and none of the guests knew that the two of you owned a home together.

porsche Aug-28-2007

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The possessive suffix attached to conjoined pronouns creates some interesting problems. Because the the possessive suffix can attach to phrases, we find "me and Mike's house" or "Mike and I's house". I don't believe there is anything ungrammatical about these in spoken English.

I can't find any advice about this in my style guides. The American Heritage Book of English Usage says to put the possessive at the end of the phrase as in "Jim and Nancy's house". This implies that "me and Mike's house" would be accepted.

John4 Aug-29-2007

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Amanda, if everyone is coming to your house you will also need to add the date, your address, and whether or not we are expected to bring our own beer.

Wun_Hung_Lo Aug-29-2007

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Wow! If I wasn't confused before, I certainly am now. I have to admit I am a tad bit excited by the amount of excitement my little question generated. I appreciate all your guidance!

I would certainly use in most instances "Everyone is coming to our house", but have found "Everyone is coming to Mike's and my house" on the tip of my tongue several times, accompanied by a sinking feeling that I was risking my reputation as a Scripps Journalism Grad with relatively good usage, compared to many I know. So, when I found this site, I thought it warranted a post.

That said, I think I will still continue on my quest to rid the world of extraneous apostrophes (our local Rotary club newsletter boasted "This Week's Birthday's" for years until I joined last month;)), and I am having a party this're all invited to Mike's and my house to join the fun. BYOB.

Thanks again,


amandacox Aug-30-2007

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If you are referring to one something (house) that is jointly possessed by both of the people referred to, you only need one possessive: I am going to Mike and Julie's house for dinner.

However, if you are referring to two somethings that are separately possessed by two people, then each person gets a possessive: After riding in Mike's and Julie's cars, I've decided to buy a Honda.

This is addressed in the Chicago Manual of Style in section 5.27, Joint and separate possessives.

Since you only need one possessive, I suppose "me and Mike's house" could be correct, but it sounds all wrong to my ear. I'd much rather say "Mike's and my house".


Jen1 Sep-03-2007

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A decent rule of thumb when listing individuals is to go from third person, to second person, and then to first person.

For example:

We found Mike's, your, and my bikes in the thief's shed.

CrippleClip Sep-30-2007

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Shouldn't that be "Mike's, your, and my bike" (that is, of course, assuming you mean each of one of them is in possession of one bike only).

Also, doesn't "Mike's and my house" imply there are two different houses?

anonymous4 Oct-30-2007

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I don't believe there is any such implication. As wrong as it sounds, I think one would write "Mike's and my houses" to refer to two structures. ("Mike's and My" is replacing "our", and one would say "Our Houses" if talking about two of them.)

This whole construction is probably best avoided entirely by using "our house" or rephrasing it somehow, e.g. "The house that Mike and I own. (if one really *must* avoid "our")

Ted1 Nov-08-2007

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Earlier, I posted that "...David is right...", but I meant to say "...John is right..." Sorry about that John. Clearly I meant to agree with you, as there is no post by any "David".

porsche Nov-08-2007

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Although I don't use it, I think that "me and Mike" in me and Mike's house" is an attempt to make a noun phrase: "me-and-Mike". It just doesn't wok all that well.

Ray2 Nov-10-2007

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Although I don't use it, I think that "me and Mike" in "me and Mike's house" is an attempt to make a noun phrase: "me-and-Mike". It just doesn't wok all that well.

Ray2 Nov-10-2007

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Invent new usage. And, whenever you can, make fun of the French:

"Everyone is coming to chez ours"

lastronin Feb-18-2008

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>At least in reporting, that is, AP Style, we try to
> avoid using extraneous punctuation wherever we
>can, and I'm of a mind that "90s" rather than "90's"

In WinWord, the 0 is markedly larger than the s. But in the font this webpage uses, they’re the same size. So while in WinWord, “90s” looks okay, in fonts such as on this webpage, I would prefer “90’s”. Also, “90’s” can be considered to be contraction, as it is a shortened form of naming all the years in the decade.

What do you people think of “Mike and my’s house?” Or how about just “The house of Mike and me”.

UIP1 Apr-25-2008

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"90s" is grammatically correct.

Stranger Jan-16-2009

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In saying "Mike's and my house", you are absolutely correct.
In saying "90s" you are not. I assume you are referring to the 1990s, correct. so the proper punctuation of "nineties" should be "'90s", using an apostrophe in the place of the "19" and not between "0" and "s". But in case I'm mistaken, I'll look into it.

RE to UIP:
1. "The house of Mike and Me" is too wordy for most people to say, as correct as it is.

2. When you split up "Mike and my's house", you would be saying "Mike house and my's house", which doesn't make sense. That's the rule I follow with multiple possessives: always break it up, then put it back together.

RE to lastronin:

crbrimer89 Mar-20-2009

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Sorry, Smart Hick. What you should be splitting up is "Mike's and my house," ending up with "Mike's house" and "my house," which would be correct. You wouldn't say "I's house," under any circumstances.

joyalla2 Aug-09-2009

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Smart Hick - my apologies! Upon re-reading your post, I saw that you and I agree on "Mike's and my house." Previously, I had noticed only your response to UIP and wrongly assumed that was your way of saying this sentence. Onward!

joyalla2 Aug-09-2009

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Sorry Smart Hick, but you should look into it again because you are mistaken. While 1990 can be abreviated as '90, it would in fact be incorrect to abbreviate the nineties as the '90s. The apostrophe does go between the 0 and the s, as "the 90's". Of course, as has been alrady mentioned, the apostrophe can be omitted, just "the 90s". Some, not all, consider the extra apostrophe "old fashioned".

porsche Aug-09-2009

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Sorry porsche, but you are actually wrong. '90s in grammatically correct, not 90's, because the apostrophe does not replace anything or show possession when it is between the 90 and the s. It's like saying are'nt instead of aren't.

My basic thoughts are below.

Correct: '90s (replacing the 19).

Incorrect 90's (not replacing anything or showing possession), 90s (would be 90s and not 1990s).

William2 Jul-02-2010

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No, I'm not wrong, William. As I have already mentioned, using an apostrophe to form the plural of dates has only recently been frowned upon, but such usage follows the older, more traditional rule. Just about every current style guide does now recommend omitting such apostrophes, but almost always has a note that says " no longer required...", which clearly indicates that it once was. Older style guides do forbid both '90's and '90s and require 90's. Some newer ones will suggest '90s.

porsche Jul-08-2010

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The logic behind the older usage 90's or 1990's is that an "e" has been omitted. The more recent custom, 90s, is actually ninetys, which is wrong. The apostrophe indicates the change from "y" to "ie" and this follows the practice of using the apostrophe for omitted letters..

Michael Antony Jul-15-2012

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This has been a helpful dialogue. I got online wondering the exact same question. The exact same question. I'm writing a story from a first person perspective and the character who is my husband is named... Mike. So thanks for answering my question about how to say 'Mike's and my house.' Love it.

laurel Feb-27-2013

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Something I didn't see mentioned here: most people seem to agree that "me and Mike's house" either sounds awkward or is incorrect. But as Jen points out, the standard rule is that if the house is shared, the possessive needs to be placed at the end of the noun phrase (eg. "Jack and Jill's house). If referring to their separate homes, however, it would be phrased as "Jack's and Jill's house." Due to this rule, I'm going to argue that "Mike's and my house" is incorrect, since "my" is a possessive term (it is the correct way of saying "me's") and the sentence should therefore translate as "Mike's house and my house." Thus, wouldn't it me more correct to say either "Mike and my house" (sounds confusing, yes) or, more reasonably, "Me and Mike's house"? I think that it may sound childish, but not awkward. In a similar way, many people may find "He walked up to Bob and me" to sound less sophisticated than "He walked up to Bob and I," but we know that the former is actually correct.

I found this discussion because I wrote "my and my sisters' childhood" in an essay and I found this to be extremely awkward. However, I could say that it is correct, because while my sisters and I shared the same environment growing up, we could never have shared childhoods.

What do you think? Based on what I have said, would you choose to say "my and my sisters' childhood" or "me and my sisters' childhood"?

Erin1 Apr-08-2013

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Erin - a couple of suggestions.
One can't say 'me and my sisters' childhood' because that means you are saying 'me childhood'. Also I go by the rule that it is polite to put oneself last. 'My sisters' childhood and mine.'
As to Jack and Jill's house - well, that is becoming modern usage. In the past, you could use one apostrophe for a company, for example Marks and Spencer's. There, one apostrophe does duty for both. But individuals need two. Otherwise one has this sort of confusion:

"I met Anne and Joe's aunt at the airport."

How many people did I meet? One or two? Please! Separate apostrophes!

Skeeter Lewis Apr-09-2013

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Hi Skeeter,

Thanks for your response. I tend to disagree with saying "Jack's and Jill's house" to refer to a single house. My understanding is that it's standard practice to use the possessive on an entire noun phrase ("Jack and Jill") if the object belongs to all subjects of the noun phrase. If I were simply condensing "Jack's house and Jill's house," then I would use the possessive on each of them to show that they are each possessing something individually. This is something that I don't (yet) feel unsure about.

What I do feel unsure about is the use of the inherently possessive "my." Given the rule that I just explained, it seems that "my and my sisters' childhood" is incorrect usage if I am referring to a shared childhood. In my previous message, however, I noted that nobody can actually share a childhood, so in that case the grammar might be correct (since each subject has its own possessive to refer to different childhoods). That said, I do understand that "me and my sisters' childhood" might be incorrect, since removing "my sisters'" would reveal incorrect grammar. I attempted to explain this in my previous post, I posed the question as I did because I'm looking to find out how I can say "our childhood" (not that way, obviously) without it sounding like "our separate childhoods." I would hesitate to use "My sisters' childhood and mine" because it seems ambiguous at best and also a little childish. As I said before, childish or awkward looking phrases are not, I understand, necessarily wrong, but they do tempt me to dig a little deeper.

Thanks for your insight--I hope there's more to come (from everybody)!

Erin1 Apr-09-2013

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I should have, for clarity, used your example: "I met Anne and Joe's aunt at the airport" means that you met one person. This is because "Anne and Joe" is a noun phrase, so they are therefore treated grammatically as if they are a single noun.

Erin1 Apr-09-2013

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@Skeeter - as I understand it, the standard rule for when two people own an OBJECT is one apostrophe - Jack and Jill's house (sorry about the caps, but I can't see any other way to add emphasis) . When two people own two separate objects - two apostrophes, plural houses - Jack's and Jill's houses (I think Erin accidentally missed out the plural s in his example)

I agree, however, that "I met Anne and Joe's aunt at the airport." is ambiguous, and when we are talking about a relationship with a person then it's a good idea to add an apostrophe to the first name. But when we are talking about the possession of a thing, there is no such ambiguity, and the widely-accepted rule that Erin is quoting refers specifically to things. - (rule 8)

@Erin - the standard rules don't seem to mention anything about pronouns, only proper nouns. From all the double possessive possibilities, I'd go for "Mike's and my house" or "My sister's and my childhood" at a pinch, but Ï find them a bit awkward, so I'd probably try and rephrase it: "The house belongs to Mike and me", "This is the house Mike and I own" or "This was when my sister and I were children".

However, there are quite a few instances of "my sister's and my childhood" in published books:

Warsaw Will Apr-09-2013

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@Warsaw Will - Thanks for the link. Common usage in published works at the very least helps me feel more confident about my choices.

Can you please tell me where I "accidentally missed out the plural s"? I really don't see where that has happened.

Regarding the "relationship with a person," are you referring to the relationship between Anne and Joe or Anne and Joe and the aunt? I realize that as much as we all want to be perfect grammarians (I know I'm not there yet), ambiguity is unavoidable in some cases. Still, I don't understand why "Jack and Jill's house" would be less ambiguous than "Anne and Joe's aunt." Mignon Fogarty ( uses a great analogy for the possession of nouns ("house" and "aunt" are both nouns): If two women are going on a trip together, to the same place, then they would only need to bring one hairdryer that will be carried in one of their bags (the possessive s is the hairdryer); but, if these two women are going on two separate trips, they will each need their own hairdryer, one in each bag (there will be two possessive indicators, one for each woman).

The problem I'm discussing is one of ambiguity, but it relates to the use of "my" as a possessive and how that word functions in a sentence in which I ("my") share something with somebody else "my sisters." Note, Warsaw, that you assumed I was referring to one sister ("My sister's and my childhood"), whereas I was referring to more than one sister ("My sisters' and my childhood"). Having said that, despite the common usage of "my sisters' and my childhood," I am still left wondering the same thing: based on the rule of compound possessions, wouldn't it be more appropriate, given the inherent possessiveness of "my" to say "My sisters and my childhood"? (note that "sisters" is not in the possessive; it is simply a plural).

If there is a hard and fast rule about this particularity, I'm interested to know it. Otherwise, I'm simply happy to hear ideas about why or why not it is acceptable.

One last thing (for fun): I understand that there a fewer rules when it comes to names than when it comes to grammar, but there is a pattern of frequency that can allow an increased probability that one's assumptions will be correct. For example, it might help to know that although there are many variations on the spelling of Erin, and either male or female can be assigned with any one of those variations, my name (Irish) is typically given to girls; the most common male variant is etymologically unrelated: Aaron (Jewish). Sometimes there are men named Erin, and sometimes there are women named Aaron, but it's rare. ;)

Cheers! Thanks so much for your input!

Erin1 Apr-09-2013

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Hi Erin - in your original comment you wrote "If referring to their separate homes, however, it would be phrased as "Jack's and Jill's house." I assumed you were talking about two separate houses, but perhaps you meant two homes in one house. But I think the important thing is their possession of the noun in question.

As regards ambiguity, with "Jack and Jill's house, we know there are two people and one house, buy in Skeeter's example sentence - "I met Anne and Joe's aunt at the airport." - who did I meet? Anne, who was accompanied by Joe's aunt (so two people) or the woman who happens to be the aunt of both Anne and Joe (so only one person).
There is another (unintentional) example at Wikipedia that shows this ambiguity - "Jason and Sue's dog died after being hit by a bus". The writer of the article seems to think that it is clear that only the dog died, from context, but another contributor is not convinced, and I'm not sure I am either.

The problem with Mignon Fogarty's piece is that she only talks about things; in fact I've yet to see any guidelines about the "possession" of a person, but I haven't looked that hard yet.

OK, sorry, I misread your sisters example, but I don't think it makes any difference - either "my sister's and my childhood" or "my sisters' and my childhood" seems fine to me. But don't think your other example, without the possessive s, works. I think you have extrapolated a rule for two proper nouns (ie; Jack and Jill) to a common plural noun and pronoun, and I find the result ambiguous.

You may well have hit an area where there simply isn't an accepted rule and you just have to play it by ear. Remember the apostrophe is the most recent punctuation mark to enter English. I'll finish with a comment from Professor Brians at the excellent Common Errors - "First let’s all join in a hearty curse of the grammarians who inserted the wretched apostrophe into possessives in the first place. It may well have been a mistake."

Warsaw Will Apr-10-2013

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Ah, great point about Joe's aunt. I was so busy trying to cut through an unsolvable grammatical problem that I didn't even notice the variation. Thanks for pointing it out!

Also, regarding "Jason and Sue's dog," by default I see that only the dog died; however, I agree that the ambiguity there is glaring. I suppose if, as the writer of the sentence, I was also referring to Jason, I would write "Sue's dog and Jason died after being hit..." Nonetheless, I understand that there is no rule about this.

Regarding the rules around possessives, I did see a rule that claimed that the compound possessive could be used for a noun, but not pronouns or...something else. Unfortunately for this conversation it is 4am and I'm still not done writing an essay I have no interest in writing. Were this not the case, I'd seek out the rule. Later, perhaps.

Thanks for the clarification. It's pretty remarkable how much I love learning about grammar. I suppose it's a slightly more productive way to procrastinate!

Erin1 Apr-10-2013

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Erin, Will, regarding:

"...the standard rule for when two people own an OBJECT is one apostrophe..."

This is true, but incomplete. Your confusion is arising because you're simply not considering the rules in their entirety.

"...the standard rules don't seem to mention anything about pronouns..."

This is not true. According to numerous sources, the "standard" rules (whatever that means) also state that when one pronoun is used, the first noun gets an apostrophe and the pronoun goes second: "...Jane's and your...", "...Jane's and my...", etc.

If might help to understand the rationale for the rule. In "...Jane and John's house", the "apostrophe-s" after John forms possession for both Jane and John. Eliminating it after Jane is a kind of shorthand notation. In "...Jane's and my house", there's no "apostrophe-s" after "my" to be shared, so it's required after "Jane".

Good discussion here:

By the way, some arguments about ambiguity of one form or the other are specious and irrelevant. In many cases, distributing the possession or not, merely shifts the ambiguity instead of eliminating it.

Some (not all) find it awkward with two pronouns, and suggest recasting the sentence as "...your house and mine", instead of "...your and my house". If the single pronoun version still bothers you, you can always recast it similarly.

Last, it's interesting to note that while "Jane and John's house" is standard for joint possession and "Jane's and John's houses", for separate possession, not all sources specifically rule out "Jane's and John's house" for joint possession. Right or "wrong", in some cases, it could eliminate ambiguity, or create emphasis. Instead of houses, how about "Jane and John's sister" vs. "Jane's and John's sister"? Or, how about for emphasis, as in:

"Is it Jane's house or John's house?"
"Neither, it's Jane's AND John's house."

porsche Apr-10-2013

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@Porsche - "By the way, some arguments about ambiguity of one form or the other are specious and irrelevant. In many cases, distributing the possession or not, merely shifts the ambiguity instead of eliminating it."

Yes! I have noticed this.

So regarding Jane and John, "Jane and John's sister" is correct but, due to ambiguity, it might help my readers and me if I instead use "Jane's and John's sister." Still, as you said, the ambiguity may have just shifted, but it seems less likely to be misunderstood.

I think you buttoned it up for me, Porsche. I was waiting for your response.

Thanks, all.

Erin1 Apr-10-2013

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Re: 'Jane and John's house.'
If this is standard usage, it must be of recent date. It sounds barbarous to me.

If there is an example of a reputable British author using this form more than say thirty years ago,,,,,,I would be intrigued.

Skeeter Lewis Apr-10-2013

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@Skeeter - As a Canadian, I am lucky (nope, not at all) to be living on the border between British grammarland and American grammarland.

I know this: It is acceptable usage that is preferred for many Americans. For a very long time I stubbornly adhered to British standards regarding spelling and grammar in general; but, as a Canadian, I am far more frequently exposed to American academic literature, and I have thus decided to streamline that which I read with that which I write for the sake of convenience. All my textbooks are also made in the U.S., if not Canada.

Anyway, I really am only concerned with what is acceptable right now. Much has changed even in the past twenty years and, while there are certain new colloquialisms and slang words that I'd rather never hear or give credit to, I think it's important to accept inevitable changes.

I do like that prescriptive grammar is as logical as possible, but the language is created by all people (not just grammarians), so it makes sense that ambiguities and disagreements about standards will always exist.

That said, I think that "Jane and John's house" is logical if a noun phrase indeed operates like a noun. I do agree, however, that since "house" would have to be pluralized in order to refer to separate houses for Jane and John, it might be more clear to use the possessive on each name.

Erin1 Apr-10-2013

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Thanks, Erin, for that post. I wondered where you lived.
I guessed that you had succumbed to the American language when I saw a capital after a colon. (Just kidding.)
To me, 'Jane and John' is not a noun phrase. They are just John and Jane. Americans are at liberty to make changes to their form of the language so long as they don't then claim it to be 'standard usage'.
Of course you're right about the language changing. Dr. Johnson said it best in the preface to his Dictionary:

" enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength."

That doesn't mean there can't be a spirited debate. It's true, of course, that King Canute is my role model....

Skeeter Lewis Apr-11-2013

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I think I made a mistake in calling it a noun phrase. I believe "Jane and John" is a compound subject. That clears some fog! (thanks!)

Also, it feels really strange not to use a capital after a colon if the words following the colon form a complete sentence; however, I tend to not capitalize, so if I did it was most definitely a mistake! I know that Americans find it acceptable either way, but a manual I checked (I think it was MLA) advised against it with the exception of something (I don't remember).

Thanks for the wonderful quote. I do tend to think that debate for the sake of debate can be rather healthy, as long as participants recognize that some debates cannot be settled.


Erin1 Apr-11-2013

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@Skeeter Lewis - "If there is an example of a reputable British author using this form more than say thirty years ago ...". That's a bit of a tall order! It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The third edition of Fowler's (1996) might be of some help, however. In it, Burchfield says that group possessives "normally only require an apostrophe after the last element" and gives the example (amongst others) of "my uncle and aunt's place".

OK, here we go (all from Google Books searches):

J.B.Priestley, Bright Day 1946 - "These were chiefly members of my aunt and uncle's whist-drive circle"

Richard Bentley (publisher of "The Classic Novels", London) 1810 - "Mr. Grey paid her the day he had obtained (for it was not easily obtained) my father and mother's consent to fix that of his happiness"

Sir Walter Scott 1833 - " lawful inheritor of my father and mother's joint estates"

Punch magazine 1842 - "My name is DIDDLETON D00; I am a descendant, both by my father and mother's side, from the great Doos of Osnaburgh-street"

Shakespeare, Macbeth - "My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still"

William Pinnock, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London 1830 - 'When two or more genitive or possessive cases are united by the conjunction and, the last only receives the apostrophe; as, "It was my brother and sister's wish;" but if a disjunction, or other kind of words intervene, all the genitive cases retain it'

But I grant you that Samuel Richardson uses the double apostrophe a couple of times.

@Erin - Both "Jane and John" and "Jane and John's house" are most certainly noun phrases, at least in the way the term is used in linguistics. And they can also be subjects, but in your example "Jane and John's house" there is no verb and therefore no subject. But if we took a sentence - "Jane and John's house isn't far from here" - In form "Jane and John's house" is a noun phrase, whereas in function it's the subject (whether it's compound or not is less important). Noun phrases can also function as direct and indirect objects and a few other things.

@porsche - I hadn't realised I was confused, but I'll dig around a bit (and look at your Chicago Style link) when I've got a bit more time.

Warsaw Will Apr-11-2013

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Very well researched, Will. I concede defeat.

Skeeter Lewis Apr-11-2013

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@porsche - "the standard rule, whatever that may mean" - I simply said this because I had found it on many websites, for example:

grammar websites, such as: and the Grammar Book, which I've already mentioned, and Grammar Monster, which says

"Finally, joint ownership is shown by making the last word in the series possessive; whereas, individual ownership is shown by making both (or all) parts possessive. - Andrew and Jacob's factory (joint ownership), Andrew's and Jacob's factories (individual ownership)"

academic writing sites, such as the Owl at Purdue and this from Kent Law at the Illinois Institute of technology -

"A less-often faced decision involves the use of apostrophes where multiple owners are named. Where two or more people own one item jointly, place an apostrophe before an "s" only after the second-named person.... However, when two or more people own two or more items separately, each individual's name should take the possessive form"

But I'm quite happy to change "standard rule" to "widely accepted principle" or "standard pattern" (as below) or something of that ilk. As far as I can see, none of these sites address the question of pronouns. I think, however, that what I said to Erin is more or less line with the answer they give at the Chicago Style forum you linked to. I've also found an excellent answer at one of my favourite sites, Professor Bryan's Common Errors (at Washington State University) -

"The standard pattern is to treat the two partners as a single unit—a couple—and put an apostrophe only after the last name: “John and Jane’s villa,” “Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.” Add more owners and you still use only one apostrophe: “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice’s party.” ... But when you begin to introduce pronouns the situation becomes much murkier. “Jane and his villa” doesn’t sound right because it sounds like Jane and the villa make a pair. The most common solution—“Jane’s and his villa”—violates the rule about using the possessive form only on the last partner in the ownership. However, most people don’t care and using this form won’t raise too many eyebrows." (not the same as the previous link)

But apart from the Wikipedia article I've still seen nothing to say what happens when a person is what is being "jointly possessed". Perhaps you have some ideas. I can only assume that as the principle/pattern I've been talking about seems only to apply to non-human elements, normal apostrophe "rules" apply.

There used to be quite a good site for AP style called Newsroom 101, which also dealt with this sort of thing, but it seems to have been hijacked.

Warsaw Will Apr-12-2013

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I dont see why we need apostrophes at all: after all we manage to understand speech without them - and somehow get by without making making an explicit distinction between genitive singular and plural. "Besides" is historically a genitive form, but we dont mark it with an apostrophe in modern usage. Why do we need apostrophes at all?

jayles the unwoven Jun-10-2015

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Which is correct, Mike and Jim’s house or Mike’s and Jim’s house?

Baygirl Sep-25-2019

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