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I want to address two Doctor Smiths via the abbreviation "Drs. Smith"; what is the correct possessive form of that (plural) noun phrase? Is it "Drs. Smith's"?

An example sentence:

Drs. Smith's house is in an ideal location.`

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    Is there a reason you can't just do "The Smiths' house"? Do you really have to retain the "Drs"? It sounds really odd to me. – Catija May 14 '15 at 15:36
  • I don't think you can pluralise their title in this way, in the same way as you wouldn't pluralise "Mister" to refer to two Mister Smiths living at the same location. – Marv Mills May 14 '15 at 15:36
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    @MarvMills Actually, in envelope addressing for formal situations, you would pluralize Drs. See "both are doctors"... That being said, I'm not sure there's a place for it in normal writing. – Catija May 14 '15 at 15:38
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    Surely the full form would be "Drs. John and Jane Smith", according to your source? – Marv Mills May 14 '15 at 15:39
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    According to that link, it's Drs. Jane and John Smith or Doctors spelled out. Regardless I still don't understand why it can't just be "The Smiths' house is in an ideal location". – Catija May 14 '15 at 15:44
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I'm going to make an educated guess, which isn't necessarily the best option but:

Technically, if you rewrite the phrase, you get:

The house belongs to the Drs. Smith.

Smith is singular, so the possessive form would be:

The Drs. Smith's house.

Similarly, if the sentence was:

The house belongs to Drs. Joe and Jane Smith.

The possessive would be:

Drs. Joe and Jane Smith's house.

Regardless, "Smith" is singular, so it doesn't make sense to pluralize it.

Now, contrast this with the known method for "The Smiths'":

The rewritten phrase would be:

The house belongs to the Smiths.

It's plural here... so it makes sense that the possessive would be:

The Smiths' house.

  • I thought that when you rewrite it as The house belongs to the Drs. Smith. that Drs. Smith is plural--referring to "The Doctors Smith"--is that wrong? – AGB May 14 '15 at 16:04
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    "Smith" is not plural, though... only "Doctors" is plural and you're not making "doctors" possessive. – Catija May 14 '15 at 16:05
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The treatment of plural possessive Drs. Smith and that of attorneys general ought to be about the same. (Although the hyphenated British version is probably not applicable)

The site Above The Law has some useful advice for the latter:

In short they say, "Don't do it- rewrite it.":

In American English, attorneys general is the correct plural form. The British prefer attorney-generals (the Brits have long hyphenated the phrase).

Generally, a compound noun made up of a noun and a postpositive adjective (one that follows its noun) is pluralized by adding -s to the noun, as with heirs apparent and causes of action. But we add -s at the end of closed compounds, as with all words ending in -ful {spoonfuls, handfuls}.

And how do you make the plural phrase attorneys general into a possessive? You don’t, preferably. You might try to make a case for 35 attorneys general’s briefs, but you’d induce more head-scratching than readerly agreement. To avoid any miscues, the better course is to rephrase with an of-genitive. So if you want to discuss the briefs of more than one attorney general, simply say the briefs of the attorneys general. Fortunately, most jurisdictions have only one attorney general at a time, so the plural-possessive form is not a problem you’re likely to encounter often.

The British have it easier: 35 attorney-generals’ briefs. Tallyho!

Thus something along the lines of: We met with the Drs. Smith yesterday. Their house was quite nice...

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