Quoting businesswritingblog.com:

The girls' and boys' teams are both in the playoffs. (Both girls and boys have their own team--both have their own apostrophe.)

The girls and boys' team is excited about being in the playoffs. (One team of girls and boys--one apostrophe.)

Is there a sentence that could be formed using

girls' and boys' team
— i.e. plural boys with apostrophe; plural girls with apostrophe but a singular team?

  • You've awakened one of my pet peeves! I suspect that difference between the second and third versions may be more a matter of gender politics than grammar. In any case, an amazing number of faceless institutional folks get it wrong - labeling lavatories as "girl's" rooms, "ladies" rooms, "men's" rooms and so forth.
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 0:46
  • It is just the grammar I had in mind!
    – k1eran
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 1:22
  • 1
    Punctuation is not grammar and doesn't follow grammatical rules. It's arbitrary, and especially in the case of apostrophes, chaotic. The simplest and most likely solution is to omit all apostrophes (which don't convey any information, or questions like this wouldn't be asked) and rely on syntax to distinguish the girls teams, and the boys teams, from the girls and boys team. If necessary, from the team of girls and boys. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 14:55
  • Don't waste your time on stupid sentences and hypothetical situations. If I were expressing this idea I would write "the mixed team", "the children's under 15 team" or something of the sort.
    – David
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 10:37
  • I have two down votes for this topic but I can’t see where or when I gave any Answer or made any Comment. If I had, I’d have suggested it belonged in English Language Learners. There are lengthy discussions elsewhere in ELU about whether girls' and boys’… or girls and boys’… is correct but either way, how could they mean anything different, please? Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 15:56

4 Answers 4


I started trying to puzzle this one out and wonder if I fully understand what you are looking for, but I'll throw in my two cents anyway.

You can use the "girls' and boys'" example in at least two cases. One would be as in the team the girls are a part of and the team the boys are a part of as separate entities. Most likely because they are segregated by gender and the two groups (the boys and girls) both have their own team, distinct from the other. While in this case you would likely write "The girls' and boys' teams," I have seen it in singular form many times.

The original example is similarly noted here as being compound possession vs separate possession, that is, two owners of the same thing or two owners of two instances of a thing. The author then also give a counterexample where the object possessed (religious beliefs, in her example) are of the same type, but different instances. Both Hinduism and Christianity are "religious beliefs" but distinct from one another.

Echoed here, referencing The Chicago Manual of Style.

The second way would be if the writer is referring to two specific groups (known to the reader) of girls and boys that are forming one team. That is: "The girls' (of class A) and the boys' (of class B) team" I imagine though that this would be unlikely to be phrased as such and instead would be combined into a plural noun. i.e.: "The students' team..." There would also likely be more context before or after the sentence to explain which two groups are the subjects. This is another instance of joint possession, but while unorthodox, could be understood by the reader if they have proper context.

Those might be stretching because there are easier ways to phrase them, but they would probably be understood with foreknowledge.

  • 1
    This answer looks like it has merit: can you add some authoritative references to back it up, so others can be confident in its correctness?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 20:53
  • 1
    Not sure how authoritative those are, but they should help I believe.
    – JGaines
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 22:16
  • 1
    In basic terms, if you have two possessors, you will have one or two apostrophes depending on the number of things possessed. If two people "Alice" and "Bob" possess the same thing, you will use one apostrophe: "Alice and Bob's house," but if they possess two different things that are of the same type, you will have two: "Alice's and Bob's house". It means the same if you double the noun. "Alice's house and Bob's house", but it's shorter the first way. Does that make sense?
    – JGaines
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:54
  • OK, I follow now regarding possessing one entity jointly or different instances respectively For second case, would "Alice's house and Bob's house" become "Alice's and Bob's houses" ie plural, even if people sometimes informally say "Alice's and Bob's house". I am trying to think of a sentence with "Alice's and Bob's house".
    – k1eran
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 0:09
  • More than likely, yes. You would say "houses" in most cases. An example where you might not: "I'm going to Alice's and Bob's house later today." In this sentence you are telling someone that you will be going to Alice's house and Bob's house, but are implying that you will be going at separate times because their houses are different. This is informal and "houses" is more correct, but English is flexible enough that a reader would likely understand what you mean.
    – JGaines
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 0:16

Girls is a description; in this instance, it's a team of girls. Girls' or girl's would indicate possession, as if the girls literally owned the team. So girls team and boys team is correct. (Your question is also a little unclear. If it's a co-ed team, you could write girls-and-boys team.)

  • My question is really about compound possession generally rather that a girls-and-boys team. I have seen text like "AAAs' and BBBs' Centre" and am trying to see is there any possible grammar or logical way that can make sense, and the team is just to illustrate the idea.
    – k1eran
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 9:33
  • The -'(s) construction does not always indicate ownership or possession. We can say "the mountain's summit" even though a mountain cannot own or possess anything, or "the pirates' defeat" even though "defeat" is not a physical object that can be owned by anyone.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 22:27
  • The girls might not own the team, but it's still a team for the girls. Therefore the apostrophe is still required according to reddit.com/r/grammar/comments/8mcach/…
    – Stew-au
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 1:58

After thorough consideration, I don't think there is a time where The girls' and boys' team . . . could be used.

If there is an apostrophe after both, then that automatically implies that there is separate possession of two different teams, one for the girls and one for the boys, forcing you to spell it as The girls' and boys' teams . . . (Ex. My mom's and dad's houses are both huge, but his is bigger.)

If there is a singular apostrophe after boys, then that automatically implies that there is one team that the boys and girls share, making it The girls and boys' team . . . (Ex. My mom and dad's house is gigantic!)

I hope you figure it out, and anybody is more than welcome to comment with questions. I'm happy to help.

  • @RobbieGoodwin I... have no idea what your rambling was supposed to mean.
    – user231780
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 3:47
  • Sorry, Black and White. that was meant to a be a Comment on the Thread, not your Answer. IMHO, I wholly support your Answer and have even upvoted it. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 15:55

I think that it would be legitimate to say "the girls' and boys' team", the meaning, although giving the same output, would be slightly different.

"The girls and boys' team" - the team made up of the group of girls and boys

"The girls' and boys' team" - the team made up of the group of girls and the group of boys

So perhaps in some context in which the group of girls and the group of boys are necessarily separated despite coming together to form the team, you could use the second.

  • 1
    I guess that your second one : The girls' and boys' team is representing The girls' <group> and boys' <group's> team with the words in <> implicit? Is that allowed approach, especially wrt apostropes?
    – k1eran
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 14:26
  • Well, not strictly implicitly there in the logical sense. But in the general meaning, yes. The presupposition of the sentence is that there is a group of girls and and a group of boy's, and then the phrase is talking about a team made up of those two groups. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 17:07
  • The thing I struggle with is, if we replace "groups of girls" by say "John" which is (I think) grammaritally equivalent, then we have no apostrophe on that part?
    – k1eran
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 19:44
  • 1
    I think if you are replacing "the girls" with John, then indeed it sounds a little strange to say "John's and Paul's team", however I would think that would be because I cannot see a way for the team to belong to John and belong to Paul without belonging to John and Paul. The relation of X belonging to Y is not the same as the relation of X being comprised of Y. That being said, I'm pretty sure you can find "John's and Paul's team" in spoken English, even if an editor might not like it... Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 16:34
  • 1
    In technical legalese, if John and Paul own a thing jointly, we would write John and Paul's thing. (But that is ambiguous in contexts such as those including teams because it could be the group of John + the members of Paul's team.) If they independently own pieces of it, the apostrophes go on each. With "team", apostrophes on both would emphasize parallel but separate relationships. Perhaps both are leaders on the team and both have different styles which influence the team. It would be rare, but not impossible.
    – Joel Rees
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 2:24

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