I've seen this question asked many times but there are so many particularities that I did not find an anwser to my case. I'm a french student writting a science speech, and I hesitate between writing :

  1. ... used to map the dolphin's absence...
  2. ... used to map the absence of the dolphin...

and I have the same problem with :

  1. ... recorded the size of the groups of dolphins
  2. ... recorded the size of the dolphins'groups.

Thank you very much, and have a nice day !

  • 2
    In a scientific context 'of the' is probably better, especially in 3/4 where the groups consist of dolphins, they don't belong to them. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 9:20
  • Thank you very much ! That's what I though but it looks so heavy in 3 ! Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 9:23
  • @KateBunting I agree, though the two pronouns made me read it a couple of times.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 11:44

2 Answers 2


As Kate Bunting said in a comment to the OP, 3. ("the size of the groups of dolphins") is better than 4. ("size of the dolphins'groups"). But, considering that the sentence talks about some property of the groups, I guess you've already mentioned the groups themselves earlier? You say you feel that "the size of the groups of dolphins" is too heavy.

So perhaps you could say "the sizes of the groups" (if "groups" would be clear in the context).

  • Thank you ! also asked to know how to react in the future. I think I'll write "the size of the groups" your're right on this one! Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 11:09
  • @Rémy Yes. Merriam Webster has a very good article on the history of the apostrophe in general and of the ‘English problem’ (by which I do not mean Brexit). merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/…. In a formal exposition clarity trumps brevity.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 11:55
  • Thank you very much ! I think this article will help ! Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:22

In the first example, if the word—dolphin in this case— is repetitive enough (mentioned at least twice before this sentence), then I'd consider (1) to be more appropriate, for the sake of brevity.

In the second example, since you say it's a speech, I'd refrain from using (4) as there is a higher chance of mispronunciation with (4).

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