2

I've seen this addressed a lot with "and", but not with "or".

In the three following sentences:

It isn't John's or Mary's fault.

It isn't John or Mary's fault.

It isn't John's or Mary's faults.

Which would be correct, and why?

closed as off-topic by Kris, Misti, Zairja, andy256, Drew Jan 30 '15 at 1:25

  • This question does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    This question may be better on English Language Learners – Kris Jan 28 '15 at 7:16
  • @*"It isn't the fault of John or of Mary", "It isn't his or her fault" Quote: "That is, as salary increased, both men's and women's willingness to date a target increased."* And finally, consider: Whose brains shrunk more, men's or women's? Here obviously Whose brains shrunk more, men or women's? won't work so well. It seems the clitic can go after the co-ordination or after the individual nouns. – Araucaria Jan 30 '15 at 14:03
  • A related later question: Is it “John or Mary's house” or “John's or Mary's house”? – herisson Aug 29 at 3:20
-1

I don't know why you think it would be different with or. As always, the clitic 's gets tacked on the end of the entire noun phrase that it is intended to apply to.

So it must be "It isn't (John or Mary)'s fault", with the parens here used only to indicate the scope of the clitic, not to imply optionality.

Flip it around for proof: "It isn't the fault of John or Mary."

  • "It isn't the fault of John or of Mary", "It isn't his or her fault" Quote: "That is, as salary increased, both men's and women's willingness to date a target increased." And finally, consider: Whose brains shrunk more, men's or women's? Here obviously Whose brains shrunk more, men or women's? won't work so well. It seems the clitic can go after the co-ordination or the individual nouns. – Araucaria Jan 30 '15 at 14:02
  • What if "neither" were added? Wouldn't the possessive marker be on both names then? "It is neither John's nor Mary's fault" – Mari-Lou A Aug 25 at 21:27
  • @Mari-LouA Negation does odd things, and negating conjunctions is no less odd than other sorts. You must be supercareful, and some combos won’t mean the same thing to all readers. “She isn’t John and Mary’s kid” shows possession shared by J+M together as one unit. “She isn’t John’s or Mary’s kid” makes clear the possession isn’t shared by J&M together, only by each separately. But beyond that confusion is inevitable: “Those aren’t John¦John’s and¦or Mary¦Mary’s kids” makes 8 combos people will always puzzle and argue over. “It’s the fault of neither John nor of Mary” is ok. – tchrist Aug 25 at 22:06

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