Could you use me's as in something like this?

  • The person behind me's phone keeps ringing.
  • The person behind me's breathing sounds laboured.

I've tried looking at other questions but I couldn't find anything about it in this context.

  • 3
    Related, if not actually providing the answer Q107727.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 12 at 19:27
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    The genitive -'s suffix has mutated from being a noun case marker (as it still is in German) to being a Noun Phrase Clitic. I.e, it goes at the end of a noun phrase, like the man on the corner's cat. It doesn't matter what that last word means, since the possessive is attaching to the whole noun phrase, not its last word. Aug 12 at 23:34
  • 5
    I guess you could, but maybe you shouldn't've'dun.
    – Mazura
    Aug 13 at 3:36
  • Did you mean "the person behind me's breathing slow" or "the person behind me's breathing slowly"?
    – phoog
    Aug 13 at 13:06
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    @IMSoP The ‘minority opinion’ is from one particular user who – for someone claiming to be a native speaker – consistently shows an astounding lack of knowledge and understanding of the English language, claiming that perfectly normal, grammatical, unremarkable constructions are wrong, while exceedingly idiosyncratic and ungrammatical constructions are the only possible correct forms. That particular opinion can be safely ignored. Aug 15 at 7:57

2 Answers 2


"The person behind me's breathing" is called a "group genitive". Grammarian Richard Nordquist states in his introduction to the topic on ThoughtCo:

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.

Nordquist lists several authentic examples, in most of which the last word of the possessive phrase is a noun. Some may find the construction less acceptable when the final word is a pronoun as in this case.

Here are some of the examples of the group genitive that Nordquist includes in his article:

  • I am sitting here in my apartment, recording the guy next door's activities...

  • 'Sweet Home Alabama' begins to play in the man with the boyish hair's pocket...

  • 'No, sir,' said the lad, 'the fellow that washes the windows' brother.'

  • He is the woman who is the best friend this club has ever had's husband.

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    I think Nordquist is understating it to say that such constructions are more common in everyday speech than in formal writing. In formal writing, they are very rare.
    – TimR
    Aug 12 at 23:02
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    @TimR. There is little doubt that group genitives ending with a pronoun are rarer in formal writing than those that end with a noun, such as "the King and Queen of England's visit..." or "the speaker of the Houses of Parliament's reprimand..."
    – Shoe
    Aug 13 at 10:12
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    Yes, I agree, and that's why I found Nordquist's understatement a bit odd. Even the comparative "rarer" doesn't make clear that such constructions are almost never found in formal writing.
    – TimR
    Aug 13 at 11:16
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    Examples similar to "the man next door's" are certainly found in written English, including on Google Books eg "the man next door's deeply pitted leg". I also found on Google Books "my colleague next to me's accrediting body", "What about the guy next to me's sleeve?", plus examples in The Guardian. Obvs your definition of formal could be almost anything.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 13 at 12:01
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    Rather than parens, I'd hyphenate it to indicate the grouping: ”The person-behind-me's phone keeps ringing.” (The way I see it, American English is a little too eager to jam words together, and British English to separate them, when hyphenating can often make it clearer in both.)
    – gidds
    Aug 13 at 17:28

People might say it colloquially, but it doesn't really sound right. If you think about it as "the-person-behind-me" being one object, then it seems like it could technically be correct, but it definitely sounds really clunky to my ears. Some alternatives:

  • The phone of the person behind me keeps ringing.
  • The person behind me - their phone keeps ringing!
  • The person's phone behind me keeps ringing.

The first one would probably be my preference as a native speaker (southeast England) if I were writing, though in an informal setting I might also slip into the third one.

  • 4
    "but it doesn't really sound right" I will say that in the north of England (Manchester) I wouldn't even bat an eyelid at "The person behind me's phone keeps ringing" and I'm usually quite pedantic regarding grammar - I would argue that it's commonplace here. "The phone of the person behind me keeps ringing." is actually a lot less natural to me even if it's technically correct.
    – roganjosh
    Aug 15 at 7:20
  • You could also go with "the phone behind me keeps ringing" since presumably the phone and the person who owns it are in the same place, and the person is really entirely unnecessary. Aug 15 at 14:45

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