Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm quite fond of internal pluralisation, such as passers-by, mothers-in-law, or even Chambers of Commerce.

However, I've recently realised that I've no idea how to indicate possession in such a case.

Neither "Mothers-in-law's" nor "mothers'-in-law" seem right.

Is there a corrct way of doing this, or should it just be avoided?

share|improve this question
2  
My favourite internal pluralisations: Advocates General and Procurators Fiscal. –  Seamus Nov 2 '10 at 12:52
1  
...and Directors General and Secretaries General. –  Steve Melnikoff Nov 2 '10 at 15:46
    
I think I've found a paper on this! But I can't read it. Oh well. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10214215 –  Rawling Nov 2 '10 at 16:14
3  
What is that paper doing on PubMed anyway? Are there any health issues associated with building possessives? –  RegDwigнt Nov 4 '10 at 16:20
    
@RegDwight: The paper is from "Nurse Author Ed", or the "Nurse, Author & Editor Newsletter". –  ShreevatsaR Nov 4 '10 at 16:36

2 Answers 2

"Mothers-in-law's" is a correct form. I am quoting the rule used in American grammar:

Also add an apostrophe followed by an s to the end of a singular compound noun that ends in any letter except s. For example:

  1. Queen of England's carriage
  2. King of Spain's castle
  3. Prime Minister of Canada's question
  4. mother-in-law's recipe
share|improve this answer
1  
"Mother-in-law's" is clearly correct, but "mothers-in-law's" still seems wrong. –  Rawling Nov 2 '10 at 13:09
5  
I agree with your conclusion that “mothers-in-law’s” is the correct form. However, the rule which you quoted does not apply here because it explicitly states that it is about singular compound nouns. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 2 '10 at 13:32
2  
"This is especially useful in pluralized compound structures: the daughters-in-law's car sounds quite strange, but it's correct. We're better off with the car of the daughters-in-law." grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/possessives.htm –  Rawling Nov 2 '10 at 16:16

I suggest avoiding it. No matter how you put it, half of your audience will think you got it wrong and be distracted.

Try "the recipes of the mothers-in-law."

share|improve this answer
    
I agree that such possessives are usually best avoided: even though "the Queen of England's carriage" is grammatically correct, it is a bit ugly. Unless it is a usage hallowed by time or convention, I'd rephrase it as "the carriage of the Queen/King/Monarch of England (whichever is applicable)". –  Cerberus Feb 26 '11 at 16:16

protected by RegDwigнt Apr 4 '12 at 14:55

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.