If I want to describe a person/group and then refer to something of theirs. Would these be permissible?

  1. The guy in charge's hat
  2. It is the people of France's doing
  3. It is everyone else's fault
  4. The electrified fence's voltage

Which more commonly would be phrased like:

  1. The hat of the guy in charge
  2. The people of France did it
  3. Everyone else is at fault
  4. The voltage of the electrified fence

If it is not what are the rules? Or where can I find the rules pertaining to this construction?

In my native language the former examples can all be constructed like singular compound words, where the ownership would be indicated at the end of just one word.

  • The first set are valid, but sound awkward (and might be ambiguous), so rephrasing is probably a good idea in most cases (although "everybody else's fault" is common). I'm not aware of a rule that is widely known or universally adhered to, but doubtless some style guides will have an opinion.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 4, 2021 at 10:09
  • I'll call the first set A and the second set B. For me A1 and A3 are absolutely fine. In fact A1 is much better than B1. A3 and B3 are both OK, but NB you have not followed the pattern with B3 - to make it the same as the other examples it would have to be it is the fault of everyone else, and then I would much prefer A3. Actually you've done the same with B2, which ought to be *it is the doing of the people of France". Then it is just as awkward as A2, which suggests that the problem is not really do with the choice between the apostrophe and the of-construction.
    – rchivers
    Jun 4, 2021 at 10:24

1 Answer 1


As general guidance, any noun phrase can be used in the genitive, so all of your examples are valid. In practice, modifying longer descriptors is inappropriate.

Though.co has an article on "group genitives"

In English grammar, the group genitive is a possessive construction (such as "the man next door's cat") in which the clitic appears at the end of a noun phrase whose final word is not its head or not its only head. Also called a group possessive or phrasal possessive.

Group genitive constructions are more common in everyday speech than in formal writing.

"I am sitting here in my apartment, recording the guy next door's activities for my best friend, who is engaged." (Meg Cabot, Boy Next Door. Avon Books, 2002)

"Joona takes out his mobile and calls Ronny again. 'Sweet Home Alabama' begins to play in the man with the boyish hair's pocket . . ." (Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist. Trans. by Ann Long. Picador, 2011)

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