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In a legal pleading, we had described several defendants, collectively, as "Defendants Smith". How do I create a possessive for that? Is it "Defendants Smiths' argument" or is it "Defendants Smith's argument"? (Is the possessive for a singular descriptor of a group a singular or plural?)

Thank you!

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  • I would probably just drop the descriptor entirely, unless there is a need to differentiate between defendant groups (sounds like your situation—"several defendants"), in which case I would use the latter. Commented May 10, 2017 at 0:07
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    Are the defendants numerous, and you want to refer only to the Smith family, or you are referring to all of the defendants? In the latter case, just say, Smiths ("the defendants") ... the Defendants' argument..." And are there also plaintiffs named Smith? If not, you can make use of that by saying simply *The Smiths' argument.... Also you can say "The argument of the defendant's counsel...*
    – user31341
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 1:11
  • See this related post on possessives in cases of internal pluralization: english.stackexchange.com/questions/4626/…
    – JLG
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 2:25
  • @jlovegren - Make an answer! // Also, "the argument of the Defendants Smith etc." Commented May 10, 2017 at 5:05
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    Related: What is the correct possessive form of “Drs. Smith”
    – herisson
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 19:42

1 Answer 1

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EVEN AT THE RISK of earning the ire of some irritable member, I shall cuts the Gordian knot and go straight to the crux of your question: Is it "Defendants Smiths' argument" or is it "Defendants Smith's argument"?

It seems to me quite obvious that since the entity in question is already 'the defendants Smith' as in the Brothers Grimm, the possessive form would need to be Smith's rather than Smiths' because you have already committed to use Smith rather than Smiths -- it should therefore be

the defendants Smith's argument / contention / appeal etc

Once you have decided to use the defendants with Smith, the form Smiths' is automatically invalidated, IMHO, unless you are willing to be inconsistent with your spelling / punctuation! The only way to use Smiths' here is to drop 'the defendants' and just say the Smiths' argument, etc as suggested by the learned member jlovegren in comments.

(Legal disclaimer: Notwithstanding any advice supplied by any member of this website, you are expected to check with the competent authority in legal writing in your jurisdiction before choosing where to place your apostrophe, at your sole discretion and responsibility.)

Please note:

  1. both possible forms you presented, the defendants Smith's and the defendants Smiths' will sound exactly the same when spoken;

  2. it is quite an awkward construction either way and I would 'strenuously' advise you to use the form "of the defendants Smith" as already suggested by the learned member aparente001 in comments;

  3. I am sure the Honorable Judge won't mind where you put the apostrophe unless he/she is a senior member of EL & U!

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  • Yes and if we twist that to look at the argument, instead of its owners, is it not clearly 'the Smith argument'? Commented May 28, 2017 at 22:54
  • @Robbie Goodwin yes indeed; OP could say 'the Smith argument' and avoid a most awkward construction! In India I have heard lawyers say 'my client' or even 'the complainant / accused / appellant' instead of referring to the name of the client. Commented May 29, 2017 at 1:03

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