Monday, October 19, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Possess the Rules of the Possessive

"Mine!" A common phrase belted out by two-year-olds, jealous significant others, and chocolate lovers everywhere. We humans seem to love knowing that something belongs only to us. Sure, we all claim to know how to share. But what happens when we're all grabbing for the last slice of pizza? Then phrases like "you snooze you lose!" and "finders, keepers!" sometimes override our better, kinder judgment.

Because we all like to differentiate between mine, his, hers, theirs, and ours, the possessive becomes essential to our daily lives. Whether it be blogging, conversing, or writing the newest and greatest American novel. Chicago reminds us that "the possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals that do not end in s) by adding an apostrophe only." However, there are a few particulars that you might get caught up in when trying to wrangle your possessions together in a sentence.

Does the person's last name end in an s? Then you should be sure it is Jones's brand new, state of the art pumpkin carver. What? Is that weird? You should see it; that guy can carve an Obama pumpkin in four minutes, flat. Efficient and patriotic.

If you have two nouns that are closely linked, remember our Peach Punctuation guide notes they are "considered a single unit in forming the possessive when the entity "possessed" is the same for both; only the second element takes the possessive form. When the entities are different, both nouns take the possessive form."

My sister's and brother's significant others came over for dinner last night and loved our new pumpkin.

Many college grads live in their father and mother's house to save money.

My cats' and dogs' toys.

However, if you are working with compound nouns and noun phrases, "the final element usually takes the possessive form."

Now, go forth and possess things! Although, remember, it does feel good to share!

For more information about specific possessive rules, seee 7.26 - 7.30 in your Chicago.

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