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Grammar Quiz #2: Possessives

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for treatment of possessives according to The Chicago Manual of Style; revise sentences as necessary:

1. I walked over to the Smith’s house.

2. Our hostess’ nerves are shot.

3. I went to my aunt’s and uncle’s anniversary celebration.

4. She made it onto the girls basketball team.

5. I sent flowers to her on Mother’s Day.


Answers and Explanations

Rules for possessives are complex, and they vary according to different style guides. Determine which style is appropriate for the kind of writing you do, and study a handbook appropriate to that kind of writing.

1.
Original: I walked over to the Smith’s house.
Correct : I walked over to the Smiths’ house.

The house is occupied by the Smiths, not the Smith, so the name must be treated as a plural possessive.

2.
Original: Our hostess’ nerves are shot.
Correct : Our hostess’s nerves are shot.

Words ending in “s” are not exempt from requiring an “s” after the possessive apostrophe.

3.
Original: I went to my aunt’s and uncle’s anniversary celebration.
Correct : I went to my aunt and uncle’s anniversary celebration.

When a pair of nouns is considered a single entity or group, only the second noun should be in the possessive form. (However, when two closely linked nouns are nevertheless clearly associated with distinct referents, both nouns should be in the possessive form, as in “I researched my aunt’s and uncle’s family backgrounds.”)

4.
Original: She made it onto the girls basketball team.
Correct : She made it onto the girls’ basketball team.

When a word can take either a possessive form (in this case, girls’, as in “for girls”) or an attributive form (here, girls, as in “of girls”), the possessive form is usually more appropriate.

5.
Original: I sent flowers to her on Mother’s Day.
Correct : I sent flowers to her on Mother’s Day.

Holiday names ending in s vary as whether they are attributive (Veterans Day), singular possessive (Saint Patrick’s Day), or plural possessive (April Fools’ Day). Celebrations of mothers and fathers are singular possessive, so this sentence is correct.

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