In a compound noun with a postpositive adjective, such as "Director-General" or "Court Martial," the noun is pluralized by using the plural form of the first word (i.e. "Directors-General" or "Courts Martial").


How are possessive forms of both the singular and plural compound nouns formed?

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Please include the "Director-General" and "Court Martial" example in your response.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, coleopterist, waiwai933 Mar 18 '13 at 0:09

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You make the noun plural and the entire phrase possessive using the so-called “Saxon genitive”:

  • The queen of England’s favorite food is cake.
  • All queens of England’s favorite food is cake.


  • The attorney general’s office.
  • All attorneys general’s offices.

If that annoys you when you do that, then as the doctor said, don’t do that — just use the ((generally) awkward) “Norman genitive” instead:

  • Cake is the favorite food of all the queens of England.
  • The offices of the attorneys general.
  • "Attorneys general's offices" is indeed the side that the Taylor and Chao PubMed piece on this problem, cited in comments on linked question, comes down on. So does this morning's New York Times, which is what set me in pursuit here today. But it still seems excessively odd to put apostrophe+s on the part that is treated as postpositive adjective for purposes of mere pluralization. – Brian Donovan Dec 7 '14 at 15:08
  • @BrianDonovan I’m not sure I’m following you here. The apostophe-plus-s is not a plural marker but a possessive one. It goes at the end of the entire NP that’s being made into a possessive; it’s just that most NPs are left branching, with only heavier elements like prepositional phrases and (usually non-finite verb) clauses right branching. “The car whipping around the corner’s hubcap fell off” is possible, although more common perhaps in speech than in formal writing. There is no plural marker there: neither of corner nor of car. To make the car plural, just do the normal thing. – tchrist Dec 7 '14 at 15:19
  • I could have made that clearer. When we pluralize "Attorney General" to "Attorneys General" we would seem to commit ourselves to a parsing whereby "Attorney" is the noun and "General" an adjective modifying it. When we then make it possessive by adding apostrophe+s to General, it seems like we're reversing ourselves on that parsing. – Brian Donovan Dec 7 '14 at 15:41
  • @BrianDonovan Oh I see the brain-bug. You’re thinking that apostrophe-s marks a noun as possessive, but it does not: it marks an entire noun phrase. Try it with the adjective proper used postpositively: “We don’t owe municipal taxes because we live just outside the town proper. — Or really, where’s the town proper’s exact border anyway?” – tchrist Dec 7 '14 at 15:47
  • Indeed I do think that. I would simply never write apostrophe+s in the places you suggest, either in the town-limits case or the hubcap case, not even in a draft, nor would I utter the spoken versions of such constructions. For NYT's "Republicans in January will control a majority — 27 — of attorneys general’s offices" I would have written "In January a majority of state attorneys general — 27 — will be Republicans." – Brian Donovan Dec 7 '14 at 15:58

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