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Pronouns and joint possessives

Pronouns and joint possession

I’ve been noticing compound possessives like Kace and I’s texts or at Paul and my home. Both examples struck me as a little odd.

In the first, the writer has added the possessive onto the compound Kace and I. In the second, the my indicates possession but the noun Paul is bare.

In part, the choices follow the grammar rule for joint possessives. The usual grammar is to use a single apostrophe when something is possessed jointly but separate apostrophes when it is not.  So Ben and Jerry’s ice cream would indicate that ice cream is associated with the both names as opposed to Ben’s and Jerry’s ice cream, where we might be referring to separate pints, cups, or cones.

That grammatical rule works fine when both of the possessors are proper nouns, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Abbott and Costello’s comedy, Holmes and Watson’s cases, Batman and Robin’s adventures, and so on. When both are common nouns, possession is sometimes awkward sounding but generally fine: the student and teacher’s collaboration, a mother and son’s bond, the cat and dog’s owner, the house and garden’s design.

When a pronoun and a name are involved in joint possessives, things get messy if you try to leave the first noun unmarked for possession. Let’s consider what strategies writers of Kace and I’s texts and at Paul and my home might be employing. A writer might treat the compound as one unit and add the possessive ending to the whole phrase regardless of the nature of the final word. That would yield Kace and I’s texts. (This strategy is also evident in examples of phrasal possessives such as a friend of mine’s boss or The person who helped you’s name.) Such examples are not uncommon: Carol Saller, author of the Subversive Copy Editor, devoted a column to it on the Chicago Manual of Style Shoptalk website. Her informal Twitter poll found that 35% of those responding occasionally heard “and I’s”. A similar Facebook poll found that 61% of respondents had heard it.

The second option, at Paul and my home, employs a different strategy. Here the writer adjusts the personal pronoun to possessive my, letting that word do all the work.

Style guides that address the matter—not all do—recommend making both parts of a compound possessive when the second is a pronoun: Kace’s and my texts or Paul’s and my home, ignoring the joint possession rule. Of course, none of us consults a style guide when speaking and very few of us do so when writing tweets, texts, or casual emails. Backtracking after the conjunction and is unlikely even if the compound seems a bit off. So writers make a choice on the fly, marking either the whole (Kace and I’s) or just the second part (Paul and my).

It’s what happens when we do grammar in the moment: competing rules make our grammar weird.

Featured image: “Ginger ice cream tartlets-4.” by jules. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Kate Quartano Brown

    But whereas ‘my home’ works, ‘I’s texts’ makes no sense whatsoever. Unless this is a neo-Americanism?

  2. Tony Harms

    Mine andPaul’s

  3. […] theme of writing authentic dialogue, Edwin L Battistella described how we’re likely to deal with pronouns and joint possession in normal speech – for example ‘Paul and my home’ or ‘Kace and I’s text’. Battistella […]

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