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Grammar Quiz #3: 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. The assignment is to identify and discuss “Great Expectations”’s theme.

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 the section on possessives in 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: The assignment is to identify and discuss “Great Expectations”’s theme.
Correct : The assignment is to identify and discuss the theme of “Great Expectations.”

Avoid attaching possessive markers to quoted titles; instead, revise the sentence. If the title is italicized, the original syntax is appropriate (but the possessive marker should remain in roman type), unless, as here, the title ends with an s; this revision is suitable in that case as well.

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 two nouns or noun phrases refer to a single entity or group, only the second noun or noun phrase 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). The names of celebrations for mothers and fathers are treated in the singular possessive, so this sentence is correct.

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