English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I would like to say something like

The boy, Adam's, favorite toy was a bike.

What is the proper way to say this?

share|improve this question
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Yes. That's right.

The possessive -'s suffix has gone from being a paradigmatic Genitive Case suffix that marks the possessor noun in Old English (or Modern German), to being a syntactic clitic marker in Modern English that marks the end of a Noun Phrase containing the possessor (e.g, the King of England's mistress).

Since the boy and Adam are both noun phrases in an apposition relation, that in itself constitutes an NP, and that NP ends with Adam. Hence that's where -'s may be placed.

The boy, Adam's, favorite toy was a bike.

However, -'s may also mark both of the apposed NPs, since they're NPs too, and they're both possessors.

The boy's, Adam's, favorite toy was a bike.

In writing, this last construction might be a good occasion to use a dash to set off the appositive.

The boy's -- Adam's -- favorite toy was a bike.

share|improve this answer
Thanks so much! To be honest, the second sentence you provided was what I figured would be correct, though it sounded quite weird, so I was going to stick with what I had. The last sentence, however, sounds and looks perfectly fine and grammatically correct. – mowwwalker Feb 11 '12 at 0:47
Punctuation is always a crapshoot. Sister Mary Nazarita never discussed dashes -- feeling perhaps that they were beneath her august notice -- so I had to figure out their intonation curve myself. – John Lawler Feb 11 '12 at 1:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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