The Apostrophe: deeper waters

October 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Of the books I consulted—some mentioned already—I found the most complete treatment of the apostrophe in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (R W Burchfield 1998).

Many people, who see at once what is wrong with the childrens’ toys, might feel uncertain when confronted with my aunt and uncle’s place. As indeed I do. According to The New Fowler’s:

Group Possessives. These normally require an apostrophe only after the last element, e.g. the Duke of Edinburgh’s speech, Faber and Faber’s address . . . my aunt and uncle’s place, a quarter of an hour’s chat.”

The example of my aunt and uncle’s place is distinguishable from the others. An aunt and uncle are two distinct people whereas Faber and Faber, being a partnership/business, can be regarded as one entity. If you were to use possessive pronouns, my aunt and uncle’s place would become “her and his place” and Faber and Faber‘s address, “its address”.

See the introduction to The Way to Write by John Fairfax & John Moat: “This book comes direct from John Fairfax’s and my experience of Avron . . .” Is this different to my aunt and uncle’s place? It seems to be much the same sort of thing but “This book comes direct from John Fairfax and my experience of Avron . . .”does not seem correct.

An interesting problem is posed in the following examples taken from The New Fowler’s:

(a) Hannah’s [Jamie Lee Curtis] love interest, in which the heroine Hannah in a TV film is played by an actress called Jamie Lee Curtis. The alternatives are (b) Hannah [Jamie Lee Curtis]’s or (c) Hannah’s [Jamie Lee Curtis’s].

There is no agreed solution: Burchfield favours (b). Perhaps three options are too many. I would recast this sentence. The information that Hannah is played by Jamie Lee Curtis could form part of a separate sentence. Then the writer could follow with,  ‘Hannah’s love interest . . . .’

It always seems to me that a disproportionate amount of time is spent in the final stages of editing a piece of writing. One cannot help but ask whether all the effort is worth the result.


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