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Joined: April 8, 2013
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I totally agree, Warsaw. Your first example sentence sounds better--more articulate. - Yes, no question about that one. However, as Warsaw points out, the "that" in your example is a demonstrative pronoun; do you know the syntactic category to which the other "that" belongs? This is what I'm actually curious about. If I knew that, I may be able to learn a little more about this "optional" item.

Erin April 16, 2013, 9:16am

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Ah. So, basically, "that" can be omitted if it's omission leaves us with a sentence that sounds grammatically correct (at least to us native speakers).

So in my above example both phrases are correct?

Wow. That cleared things up quick. I typically prefer not to use "that" when it sounds fine without it, but I wasn't sure if it only sounded proper because we often omit it when we speak.


Erin April 14, 2013, 10:57pm

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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.


Erin April 10, 2013, 9:51pm

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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.

Erin April 10, 2013, 1:26pm

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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.

Erin April 10, 2013, 12:22pm

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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!

Erin April 9, 2013, 10:57pm

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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!

Erin April 9, 2013, 11:32am

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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.

Erin April 9, 2013, 8:12am

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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)!

Erin April 9, 2013, 8:07am

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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"?

Erin April 8, 2013, 12:29pm

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