I'm struggling to get my head around this sentence I have written. It feels right and wrong at the same time.

"Timeless family, children's and baby portraits"

I am not sure about the apostrophe use in 'children's'. It sounds right but then I begin to question the others in the list.

If you separate them I believe it would be OK...

Family Portraits
Children's Portraits
Baby Portraits

Children Portraits- Definitely doesn't sound OK, neither does Child Portraits.

Can anyone help with this and put my mind at rest?

  • 1
    There have been previous questions addressing the issue of the correctness of / choice between apostrophised forms and noun modifiers. (In passing, I'd class these examples as modifier rather than complement usages.) Some would choose to use "We bought most of the children's clothing in the childrens clothing department at Waterstones". However, mixing forms as here does look like a poor style choice. I'd rearrange to 'timeless portraits of babies, children, and whole families'. Mar 2 '16 at 9:28
  • ... By 'these examples' I mean 'OP's examples', not every N + N pairing. Mar 2 '16 at 9:48
  • The problem is with the word children that seems to need the apostrophe in adjectival form with portraits: "children portraits" won't do, you need children's portraits -- however, in the list form, esp. with the children sandwiched between two other elements, you don't need the apostrophe" "family, children & baby portraits" is perfect.
    – Kris
    Mar 2 '16 at 10:19
  • On a side note, my objection would be with the common adjective Timeless before the list -- that kind of structuring the sentence is to be avoided by rephrasing or repeating the main noun: "Timeless portraits: family, children and baby portraits". HTH.
    – Kris
    Mar 2 '16 at 10:21
  • Can these be posted as answers?
    – connersz
    Mar 2 '16 at 11:23

This is not good,

"Timeless family, children's and baby portraits"

because it coordinates things of different grammatical categories:

  1. "family" is the first part of a compound noun "family portraits"
  2. "children's" is the Determiner of a noun phrase "children's portraits"
  3. "baby" is the first part of a compound noun "baby portraits"

The minimal change to make this grammatical is to change "children's" to "child", so instead of 2. above, we have something which can count as the first part of a compound noun "child portraits". Then all three of the coordinated constituents are of the same grammatical type.

With this change, it is still a little odd, since every baby is a child, and you don't usually coordinate a subset.


Grammatically, it's fine. What may be unsettling you is the fact that you're using a possessive in "children's" then "baby" as a qualifier, without a possessive ending. You could have said "Child and baby portraits", or "Children's and babies' portraits", but it's a matter of style.

  • Downvote - why? When we bother to post an answer it's nice to know what we did wrong. Mar 2 '16 at 10:58
  • I'm not the downvoter, and would not have gone that way, but I suspect that someone wanted you to cite a rule or authority. Either that, or somebody thought your last sentence carried too much opinion. I've been dinged for similarly brief answers. :-0
    – Rob_Ster
    Mar 3 '16 at 2:41
  • Thanks for that, @Rob_Ster. I'm still getting to grips with how Stack Exchange works! Mar 3 '16 at 9:38

One option is to keep the modifier close to the noun: timeless portraits.

Timeless portraits of infants, children, and family.


Children is a plural noun. Therefore, it does not gain an apostrophe in the middle of the word.

If you're referring to the portraits or portraiture of many children, use a possessive apostrophe after the word: childrens' portraits. If you're referring to the portrait of one child, you need a possessive 's after the singular form: child's portrait. I'd imagine you want the former, since you're talking about multiple portraits.

If you want to avoid the apostrophe issue altogether, you could use timeless portraits of families, children, and babies (with or without the Oxford comma).

  • How could it be chldrens', "plural's plural"! Mar 6 '16 at 20:17
  • @BaridBaranAcharya Both the s and the apostrophe are added on to children to make it possessive. It's not a plural plural, it's a possessive plural.
    – ArtOfCode
    Mar 6 '16 at 20:20
  • 1
    Use it like this, "children's". Mar 6 '16 at 20:22
  • @BaridBaranAcharya No, that's incorrect. Childrens' is the correct possessive form.
    – ArtOfCode
    Mar 6 '16 at 20:23
  • In that case, most humbly I beg to differ,Sir. Mar 6 '16 at 20:26

In this apparently innocent question, critical issues of modifier, compound noun (open form) and possessive get chaotically jumbled up.

First of all, timeless are the portraits; they have to be used together lest they fail to evoke desired effect.

In a noun-noun combination of compound noun(open form) 'family' can go with portraits, the rest two don't. You see, to me, baby portraits seem to suggest miniatures— not the portraits of babies.

And what about children? You yourself admit we require a possessive. It would be better to reword the sentence so that a plural word does not need to be possessive, in a list as such with an "'s".

These are the places where the shoe pinches. What Edwin Ashworth has suggested is the best rendering.

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