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Possessive of a word that's already possessive?

There’s a bar near me named O’Leary’s Irish Pub—or just O’Leary’s for short. One day, they changed their menu. I wrote to a friend:

“O’Leary’s has changed their menu. O’Leary’s’s menu no longer has beer-battered onion rings.”

Is this usage correct?

I always use “ ’s ” to denote singular possessive—Charles’s office, Russ’s phone, Lars’s car, Baggins’s sword—so O’Leary’s’s seems completely natural to me. But several of my friends say it is wrong. Why?

The way I see it, it’s like this: Finnegan O’Leary works hard at O’Leary’s Irish Pub. The O’Learys are a friendly family. The O’Learys’ house is on Beacon Street. O’Leary’s’s menu is new. Many O’Leary’s’ doors have closed (meaning: the doors of many places named O’Leary’s over the years have closed).


p.s.—What about “My Night at Maud’s’s plot”?

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Orthography is not grammar. –  Peter Taylor Feb 5 '12 at 17:46
    
@Peter -- good catch, I retagged the question :-) –  Jay Elston Feb 5 '12 at 17:54
    
Thanks, guys. I've changed "grammatically" to "orthographically" in the title. –  Todd Lehman Feb 5 '12 at 18:28
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marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Feb 5 '12 at 19:22

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3 Answers

If it is Finnegan O'Leary's pub, (the pub is owned by Finnegan O'Leary) then it is O'Leary's menu, or O'leary's Irish Pub's menu.

The rule on where to put apostrophes for possessives (here or here) boils down to:

  • for singular nouns, add a 's, as in the cat's meow.
  • for plural nouns ending in s, add the apostrophe at the end, as in the boys' clubhouse
  • for plural nouns not ending in s, add 's, as in sheep's wool.

So, in your case, since the pub and the pub's menu belong to Mr. O'Leary, the first rule applies, and they are O'Leary's items.

Now if if wife Ruth buys a steak house from a guy named Chris, well, that is another story...

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The edit made your answer a lot better. +1. –  Irene Feb 5 '12 at 17:45
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Re: "the pub and the pub's menu belong to Mr. O'Leary": This smacks of post hoc rationalization. The menu belongs to the pub -- to O'Leary's. So if your rule is correct, then "O'Leary's" is the relevant noun, and its possessive is "O'Leary's's". –  ruakh Feb 5 '12 at 18:46
    
Also, for the record -- the third branch of your rule is wrong: it should be "sheep's", not "sheeps'". (You must have misread the page that you link to.) –  ruakh Feb 5 '12 at 18:48
    
@ruakh -- thanks. –  Jay Elston Feb 6 '12 at 4:21
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English has an interesting feature termed the double possessive, which is what your question speaks to.

For example:

"Jack's friend" and "A friend of Jack's" have the same meaning. Yet why don't we simple say "A friend of Jack"? This would seem to suffice, given that "of" already denotes possession.

We also say "A friend of his" (derived from "his friend") and not "A friend of him".

Thus, we see the need for the possessive pronoun, in addition to the "of". Hence, the double possessive.

However, we would not say "Jack has changed his's menu." given that "his" already transports the concept of possession. Thus, when we run into a word ending in "s" we make accommodation for the fact that the "s" sound frequently indicates possession in English.

In the case of "Charles" while one may speak "Charles's", "Charles'" is the preferred modern written form. Thus, one eliminates a redundancy.

While technically not incorrect, O'Leary's's lacks elegance. In a clash between being technically correct or elegant. The choice in this case is to take the path of elegance. Thus, "O'Leary's menu has changed" is the sophisticated choice.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

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I agree that O’Leary’s's lacks elegance. What would you do in the case of the movie title possessive that I just added as a postscript? (I wasn't able to post it as a comment because the italics didn't work properly in comments in that case, so I added it at the bottom of the original question.) –  Todd Lehman Feb 5 '12 at 18:41
    
My Night at Maud's should be treated as a proper name. That is, "My Night at Maud's" plot. Or, better yet: The plot of "My Night at Maud's". Inelegance should be avoided. Usually, there are easy ways to do so. –  Jack Robbin Feb 5 '12 at 19:07
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In speech, I would absolutely say O'Leary's's; it's grammatically correct. But in speech we don't have to worry about the apostrophes looking silly, and we don't have the time to figure out a different way to word things. In writing, I would prefer to rephrase it, even though it's correct: it's not wrong, but it's awkward. In your original example, I'd just write their menu (which, in context, is perfectly clear), or just they (and with a plural verb). In "My Night at Maud's's plot", I think I'd go with "the plot of My Night at Maud's".

Edited to add: Another option, in the case of O'Leary's, is to use it as an attributive noun; just as we can refer to Burger King's menu as "the Burger King menu", we can refer to O'Leary's's menu as "the O'Leary's menu". (But not as simply "O'Leary's menu"; the the is essential here.)

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