Compound possession

Compound Possession

Apostrophes with Compound Subjects and Objects

Play the quick video lesson HERE and click the upper left back arrow to return to this lesson.

Common Core Language Standard 2

When we use apostrophes with compound subjects and objects, several punctuation rules have to be learned. These rules apply to both nouns and pronouns used as compound subjects and objects.

Today’s mechanics lesson is on apostrophes with compound subject or object possessives. A compound subject consists of two or more nouns and any connected words that serve as the do-ers of the predicate. A compound object consists of two or more nouns and any connected words that receive the action of the verb. A possessive shows ownership.

Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples.

With compound subjects or objects, if each of the nouns possesses the same item, use an apostrophe then an s at the end of each noun. Example: Eric’s and Victor’s backpacks.

If both or all of the nouns share ownership of the item, place an apostrophe then an s at the end of the last noun listed. Example: Kayla and Emma’s pizza

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to mechanics lesson.

Practice: We discussed the plan at Ethan’s and Mary’s apartment. Ethan’s and Mary’s reactions to the business proposal were quite different.

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: We discussed the plan at Ethan and Mary’s apartment. Ethan’s and Mary’s reactions to the business proposal were quite different.

  • Now let’s apply what we have learned.
  • Writing Application: Write your own sentences using both a compound subject and a compound object possessive.
  • This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs.
  • *****

Compound Possession

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The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Compound Possession

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Grammar/Mechanics, Writing apostrophes, compound possessives, Grammar Lessons, Language Conventions Lessons, writing openers

How to Write Compound Possessives with Pronouns

Compound PossessionToday’s post explores compound possessives with pronouns. For example, is Windy the cairn terrier Doug and my dog, Doug’s and my dog, or Doug and I’s dog?

Before we answer this intriguing question of canine custody, we’ll define compound possessives and then look at how to write them in a sentence with pronouns.

What Are Compound Possessives?

Compound possessives, also called joint possessives, occur when two or more nouns (usually names) share ownership of something.1 Compound possessives can also include one or more pronouns instead of nouns.

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Compound Possessive: Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle’s cat tree is in the living room. (Mr. Heckle and Mr. Jeckle share one cat tree.)

Compound Possessive with a Pronoun: John’s and her car is in the driveway. (John and a woman, indicated by the pronoun her, share one car.)

Important Reminder: When using a nonpersonal pronoun (e.g., he, his, she, her, they, their, it), ensure that the pronoun is identified earlier in the content. For example: “Do you know where Kate is? No, but John’s and her car is in the driveway.”

Possession is usually indicated by attaching an apostrophe s to a noun. However, only contracted pronouns (e.g., it’s for it is) end with an apostrophe s.

  • To show pronoun ownership, we rely on the possessive forms, such as my, mine, his, her, hers, their, theirs, our, ours, and its.
  • So, if we return to the question of Windy the Cairn terrier’s ownership, we can eliminate Doug and I’s dog as a possible option because I isn’t a possessive pronoun.
  • Now we are left with Doug and my dog versus Doug’s and my dog.

When combining nouns and pronouns in compound possession, attach an apostrophe s to each noun.2 In this case, the noun is the name Doug.

  1. Therefore, the correct format is Doug’s and my dog.

3 Rules to Help You With Compound Possession

  • A listener named Katie wrote in with this question:
  • How do you show possession to more than one noun?
  • For example, would you say, “Tom and Jerry’s TV show” and “Ryan and my anniversary”? The latter looks so odd that I end up avoiding it entirely and going with a longer and less efficient, “Ryan and I are celebrating our anniversary on…”

Thanks for the question, Katie! What you’re asking about is called “compound possession” or “joint possession.”

I’ll start with the first part of your question.

1. With Nouns, How You Write a Compound Possessive Depends on Whether Things Are Shared 

If you're trying to write about possession and you have two subjects that are nouns, you have to decide if the two people possess something together or separately. 

If the two people have the thing together, they can share the apostrophe-S. If they don’t share the thing, then they can’t share the apostrophe-S either. They each need their own.

So, to use your example, if you’re talking about Tom and Jerry’s TV show, they’re the main characters on the same cartoon about a cat and mouse—essentially they share the show—so they can share the marker of possession, and you need only one apostrophe-S at the end: It’s Tom and Jerry’s TV show.

If they are on the same show, it's 'Tom and Jerry’s show.'

But let’s say you’re talking about two characters who each have their own TV show. Imagine that Tom hosts a show about famous cats for Animal Planet, and Jerry hosts a spin-off of “MTV Cribs” that is all about tricked out mouse habitats.

Now imagine that both those shows got canceled. You’d need to write that “Tom’s and Jerry’s shows were canceled,” putting an apostrophe-S after both “Tom” and “Jerry.

” Because Tom and Jerry each have their own separate show, they each also need their own apostrophe-S in that sentence. 

If they are on different shows, it's 'Tom’s and Jerry’s shows.'

The same is true if you have more than two people in your sentence: If they all share the same thing, you put one apostrophe-S on the final name in the list. If you want to include the bulldog Spike from the cartoon show, you can call it “Tom, Jerry, and Spike’s show.”

Compound possession: Whose is what?

by Shamus Jarvis

When dealing with a compound subject (two or more nouns or pronouns serving as a single subject of a sentence), a writer must know how to clearly signal to the reader who possesses what. This is due to the fact that it can be confusing knowing how to express whether one or more parties within the subject share ownership of an object or experience.

For example, look at the following two sentences:

  • Bob and Jane’s children are in kindergarten.
  • Bob’s and Jane’s children are in kindergarten.

In the first sentence, the fact that only the second proper noun (Jane) is written as a possessive—indicated by the apostrophe—signifies that the children belong to both Bob and Jane. In sentence two, both proper nouns are written in the possessive form, indicating that Bob’s children are different from Jane’s children.

This shows that when all parties within the compound subject of a sentence share possession, only the final noun or pronoun should appear in the possessive form. If the parties within the compound subject do not share ownership, then each noun or pronoun should be written as a possessive.

If the compound subject contains a noun and a personal pronoun, both must be written in the possessive form in order to signify joint ownership.

Examples:

  • Sarah’s and my boss went to Florida.
  • Sarah and my boss went to Florida.
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When the proper noun and personal pronoun appear in the possessive form, the sentence states, the boss of Sarah and myself went to Florida. When only the pronoun is written as a possessive, the meaning of the sentence changes to read, both Sarah and my boss went to Florida.

As compound possession comes up in your writing, ask yourself, “Do the parties within the compound subject share ownership, or do they own the object(s) independently of each other?” If there is joint ownership, then only the final noun or pronoun should appear in the possessive form; otherwise all nouns should appear as possessives.

Exit SHAMUS, upstage center.

Compound Possessive Pronoun & Noun

Forming compound possessives with nouns and possessive pronouns can be tricky.

Take this tiny quiz, and then we'll go over the rules for forming compound possessives. (The quiz really is tiny. It's only two questions!)

1. ____________ dog dug up my garden.

a) Mary and John's 

b) Mary's and John's 

2. ______________ cat chased their dog.

  • a) Dan and my
  • b) Dan's and my
  • c) Dan and my's

Before I tell you the answers, let's check out the rules for compound possessives.

Compound Possessive Nouns

  1. Two or More Owners Sharing Ownership
  2. When you have two or more nouns that you're making into a compound possessive, add 's to only the last noun if the nouns are functioning as one unit.

  3. Margo and Martha's business was booming.

This means that Margo and Martha share ownership of a booming business.

Since Margo and Martha are working together at one business, we only add the 's to the last noun, Martha.

  • Two or More Owners With Separate Ownership
  • When you have two or more nouns that you are making into a compound possessive, add 's to both nouns if they are functioning separately. 
  • Margo's and Martha's businesses were booming.

This means that Margo and Martha have separate businesses that were booming. Since they own different businesses, we add the 's to both Margo and Martha.

Compound Possessive Nouns & Pronouns

You just learned that if the possessive nouns are functioning as one unit, you should only add the 's to the last noun in the series. But what should you do if you are adding a possessive personal pronoun into the mix?!

In that case, add an 's to the noun that comes before the pronoun. You don't have to add an 's to the pronoun because it's already possessive without the apostrophe.

  1. Bill's and my cat ate dog food.
  2. The car is Elizabeth's and mine.
  3. Today is Jeremy, Catherine's, and my last day of school.

Quiz Answers

1.  a) Mary and John's dog dug up my garden.

Since this dog belongs to both Mary and John, the apostrophe goes only after the noun John. They both share the dog, and they both share the apostrophe.

2.  b) Dan's and my cat chased their dog.

Since this has a noun and a possessive personal pronoun, the noun Dan needs to have an 's. The possessive personal pronoun my doesn't need an 's because it is already possessive.

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Kim’s question: “In both writing and speaking, how do I refer to something that belongs to more than one person? For example, a report that Bill and I worked on – ‘the report is Bill’s and mine’ or ‘the report is my and Bill’s.’ What is the correct way to state this?”

BizWritingTip response: This is a great question. It involves a standard rule and then the exception.

First, when you have two nouns, it is considered a compound noun. If you need to show possession with a compound noun, use an apostrophe. But where does the apostrophe get placed?

If both nouns own the same thing, the apostrophe is placed after the last noun. If both nouns possess different things, then an apostrophe must be added to each.

  • Examples
  • Bill and Susan’s report will be ready for printing tomorrow. (One report)
  • Bill’s and Susan’s reports will be ready for printing tomorrow. (Two reports)
  • The report was Bill and Susan’s. (One report)
  • The reports were Bill’s and Susan’s. (Two reports)

However, when a personal pronoun (I, you, he, she, we or they ) is involved, there is a slight difference. You place the apostrophe on the noun only. Personal possessive pronouns never have an apostrophe as they are already possessive (my, mine, his, hers, ours, yours). Note: The noun comes first.

Example

Bill’s and my report will be ready for printing tomorrow.

The report is his and mine. (Never use an apostrophe with a possessive personal pronoun.)

The report is Bill’s and hers.

The report is Bill’s and mine. (The noun is always placed first.)

Possessive Nouns

Many people have trouble distinguishing between possessive nouns and plural nouns. Simply put, possessive nouns demonstrate ownership, while plural nouns indicate more than one person, place, or thing. Let's take a look at some of the most distinguishing features of possessive nouns.

Possessive nouns typically include an apostrophe. For example:

  • Jennifer's imagination ran wild as she pictured the accident.
  • The kitten's favorite toy is a stuffed catnip mouse.
  • The kids' toys are in the basket.
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Think of the apostrophe as a hook reaching out to take ownership of the nearby object. Without that little hook grabbing onto the “s” or the next word, the noun is simply pluralized. The main exception is the possessive form of the pronoun it: “its” does not require an apostrophe.

It's important to note that possessive nouns are working as adjectives. They're still nouns, but they're functioning in the capacity of an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns, providing further detail. For example, “the flower” becomes “the vibrant flower.”

The “vibrant flower” tells us about a quality the flower has: it's vibrant. We could also say, “Jennifer's flower is vibrant.” This would provide us with even more information.

Not only is the flower vibrant, but it also belongs to Jennifer. Changing Jennifer into a possessive noun signals that more information is coming about a person, place, thing, or idea.

In these instances, possession is acting as a modifier.

Let's dive into five rules for possessive nouns.

Rule #1: Making Singular Nouns Possessive

For most singular and plural nouns that don't end in “s,” you can make them possessive by adding an apostrophe and an “s” to the end of them.

Examples:

  • The puppy's collar is red.
  • Joe's car is hideous.
  • James' book will be published next month.orJames's book will be published next month.

Punctuation: Apostrophe

An apostrophe ( ' ) is used to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word (rock 'n' roll), omission of a century in a year ('97), a contraction (they're) and to show possession.

When forming possessives of nouns

  • Plural nouns not ending in s, add 's: the women's group, the men's input.
  • Plural nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe: the players' practice facility.
  • Nouns plural in form, singular in meaning, add only an apostrophe: mathematics' rules, Bronco athletics' code of conduct.
  • Singular nouns not ending in s, add 's: the University's needs.
  • Singular common nouns ending in s, add 's unless the next word begins with s: the hostess's invitation, the hostess' seat.
  • Singular proper nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe: New Issues' first publication.
  • Compound words, add an apostrophe or 's to the word closest to the object possessed: the general counsel's request.
  • With compound nouns, placement of apostrophes for possession depends on whether the nouns are acting collectively or separately.

Jim's and Mary's weddings were both in Kalamazoo.They are not married to each other (two separate weddings).

Jim and Mary's weddings were both in Kalamazoo.Jim and Mary have been married twice to each other.

An apostrophe following the last name in a series indicates collective possession.

Possessives: Joint or Separate Ownership

If your writing looks professional, so do you.

  • Recently a subscriber wrote to ask which of these two constructions is correct:
    • The administrative assistant completed John’s and Rob’s report.
    • The administrative assistant completed John and Rob’s report.

    In cases of joint ownership, only the second (or last) noun or pronoun has to be possessive, but in cases of separate ownership, both (or all) nouns or pronouns are possessive.

    Thus, assuming that the report belongs to both John and Rob, the correct construction is the second one. If, however, each person has a separate report, then both names would be possessive and the word report would need to be plural:

    • The administrative assistant completed John’s and Rob’s reports.

    Here are some additional examples followed by explanations:

    • We are planning to attend Sam and Teresa’s retirement party. (One party is being held to celebrate both people’s retirement, so the party “belongs,” so to speak, to them jointly.)
    • We are planning to attend the party honoring Sam’s and Teresa’s outstanding sales records. (Each of them possesses a separate, individual sales record; the records are not jointly owned.)
    • When I went to my husband’s family reunion, I finally met Joe’s and Martha’s parents. (Joe and Martha are not siblings and thus do not “own” the same set of parents.)
    • When I went to my husband’s family reunion, I finally met Tim and Sally’s parents. (Tim and Sally are siblings and thus “own” the same set of parents.)

    TEST YOURSELF: Which of these constructions is correct? Can you correct the others?

      1. We complained to the housekeeping service when the trash receptacles in Hal and Barb’s offices had not been emptied for three days. [They work in separate offices.]
      2. Smallville and Eden’s population increases in the last decade have been staggering, despite economic hardships endured by both counties.

      3. After the ceremony, everyone who attended Nancy’s and Tom’s wedding walked across the street to the reception.
      4. Susan and Richard’s proposals were outstanding, so the company has funded both of the projects for the next fiscal year.
      5. The seamstress had to alter both Emily and Julie’s dress before the party.

    ANSWERS

      1. Hal’s and Barb’s offices
      2. Smallville’s and Eden’s population increases
      3. Nancy and Tom’s wedding
      4. Susan’s and Richard’s proposals
      5. Emily’s and Judy’s dresses

    Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2018.

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