Is there a rule of thumb on how to deal with apostrophies in the following cases?

  • Group name vs. Group's name
  • Car brand vs. Car's brand

And pretty much anything similar.


The second one is more easily dealt with than the first so I will start with that. A "car's engine" is the specific engine belonging to a specific car. That is the one which is normally installed in its engine compartment. If we are talking about my car I can say "my car's engine is making a horrible noise, I will take it to the garage." A car engine on the other hand is an engine designed and built to go into a car whether or not it is associated with a specific car or not.

The mechanic may well have to remove the engine from my car in order to work on it but it will still be "my car's engine" when it's on the hoist or the workbench. However if he says that the engine is beyond repair he could say "You need another engine, I'll find you a reconditioned one". The recon engine will have been removed from another car before having been reconditioned, possibly a car that has been scrapped, and is a free-standing item. It is then a car engine, that is an engine built to go into a car. Once the recon engine is installed in my car it becomes "my car's engine" and the original becomes "my car's old engine". Both engines are *car engines but only the one fitted in my car is my car's engine.

Sometimes car engines are used to drive other things such as generators and leisure boats. If I had a "narrow boat" driven by a car engine it would still be a car engine because it was intended for a car, but it would also be "my boat's engine" because it was installed in my boat. If I needed a new set of spark plugs for my boat's engine, though, I would buy them from a car spares shop because it is a "car engine".

In the case of a named group the distinction is less simple. If we think of The Beatles for example we could say "The song 'Penny Lane' was a hit for a British pop group, The group's name was 'The Beatles'". We could also say "John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were all members of the same pop group, their group name was 'The Beatles'.

The illustrates the difference. "Group's name" refers to the name of a group as an entity but "group name" refers to the name given to a collection of people (or other entities) who form, or are put by others into, a group which then named.

The difficulty is that we can say things like "John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were all members of the same pop group, the group's name was 'The Beatles'. The two usages are sufficiently similar that confusion can arise, even though the usages are distinct.

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