Yes, Possessives Really Can Be Hard Sometimes


Recently I sat at a traffic light behind a taxi emblazoned with the words “Peoples’ Taxi.”

The message was a powerful one: This taxi isn’t just for people. It’s for all the peoples — the people of the USA and the people of Kyrgyzstan and any people who might consider themselves denizens of the International Space Station.

I kid. I kid the Peoples’ Taxi — and I do so not because they made an unforgivable error but because I’m perennially frustrated by just how hard possessives can be. They should be easy. The rules are simple enough. But in the real world, possessives are a minefield of opportunities to mess up.

That’s true even for people who work with words all day long. Take this sentence I saw recently in a BuzzFeed article: “But most family’s don’t include a member of Congress.”

That one’s pretty bad.

Here’s another I spotted around the same time: “Both mine and my wife’s family are based here in South Florida.”
That’s not bad at all, really. But it’s not quite right, either.

Here's my recent column examining the correct way to handle all three of these tricky possessives.


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