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This question already has an answer here:

In this sentence, should there be two apostrophes to denote discrete possession, or should there be an apostrophe just after the second subject to denote joint possession?

He said he didn't know anything about John and Jenna's deaths.

Or should it be this:

He said he didn't know anything about the deaths of John and Jenna.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, choster, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, jimm101, Davo Nov 2 '17 at 12:25

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  • I admit that it might make the sentence seem awkward, but if a single apostrophe is used, it signals a joint possession like "aunt and uncle's house," which also might sound awkward as "death" cannot be jointly possessed. – user234028 Nov 1 '17 at 23:38
  • But deaths is plural. Plural deaths cannot be anything but jointly possessed (in literal rather than figurative use, anyway) as one normally only gets one each. – Jon Hanna Nov 2 '17 at 0:06
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The genitive apostrophe marks a phrase, not a word. Consider:

Hamlet is the tale of the Prince of Denmark's tragedy

The tragedy belongs to the prince, not to Denmark, but the apostrophe is covering the whole phrase Prince of Denmark.

He said he didn't know anything about John and Jenna's deaths.

Here it is John and Jenna who had deaths, and again this is perfectly okay.

The suggested alternative would be:

?He said he didn't know anything about John's and Jenna's deaths.

Or perhaps:

?He said he didn't know anything about John's and Jenna's death.

This is certainly found, particularly in speech rather than writing, and perhaps with local variation (I can imagine hearing it being more likely where I grew up than where I live now). It's also clearly logical (it belongs to each of them separately) but it's the sort of thing that might raise objections. I would expect an editor to put a red pen through it.

He said he didn't know anything about the deaths of John and Jenna.

That certainly avoids the question. In this case I think "… John and Jenna's deaths" is clear enough and reads better and would just use it. In cases where there was more ambiguity such re-wordings can be wise.

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    No. Joint ownership is shown by using a single apostrophe-s at the end of the coordinated phrase: John and Jane's cars. [They jointly own 6 say.] Individual ownership / attribution is shown by apostrophe-s's after each member. John's and Jane's cars. [John owns 1 and Jane owns 2, say.] Here, John's and Jenna's deaths is required. John suffered 1 and Jane suffered 1. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 2 '17 at 0:53