An apostrophe question

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An apostrophe question

Post by Bobinwales » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:32 pm

A theatre group staging a production of Dad's Army narrowly avoided the production going with a bang after using live grenades as props.
The grenades had come from one of the cast member's father-in-law's garage following a clear-out after his death.
This is a quote from THIS BBC story.

I am usually pretty sound on the use of the apostrophe, but this one had me thinking.
Should it be father’s-in-law or, as written, ‘father-in-law’s? I have to say that father-in-law’s trips more easily off the tongue.

Had I been writing the piece, I would probably have said that they had come from the garage of a member of the cast’s father-in-law, in the manner of the letter to the pet shop:

“Dear Pet Shop,
Please send me two mongooses
Please send me two mongeese

Please send me a mongoose, better still, make it two.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by dante » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:54 pm

Hello BobinWales,

I can't say what would be the preferred option for a native speaker but according to Huddleston and Pullum any "phrasal genitive" as they call the genitive consisting of a noun (father) and some post dependent (in law) you always put an apostrophe to the last word in the phrase so it's "father-in-law's garage".Although "father-in-law" is a set phrase and not exactly the same as the examples given in grammars like "King of England's daughter",it still can be analyzed in the same manner I think.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Phil White » Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:51 pm

My gut feeling is that the position of the possessive "s" ought to be analogous to the way in which the compound noun is pluralized, which in itself is often a moot issue, but the examples I thought of all seemed to break down when pluralization was of the first element. The asterisks in the table below denote items which appear ill-formed to me.
Compound nounPluralPossessive
Sit-inSit-insSit-in's
Grown-upGrown-upsGrown-up's
Notary publicNotaries public*Notary's public
Notary public's
Man-of-warMen-of-war*Man's of war
Man of war's
Father-in-lawFathers-in-law
Father-in-laws
*Father's-in-law
Father-in-law's
Every example I can think of suggests that no matter how the plural is formed (and there are two options for "xx-in-law"), the possessive "s" is always on the last element.

My gut reaction only.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by HHHPUZZLES » Mon Jun 07, 2010 6:40 pm

The answer would be "father-in-law's." On page 284 of The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) the following instruction occurs,"[/quote] Compunds. In compound nouns and noun phrases the final element usually takes the possessive form. If plural compounds pose problems, opt for of."

Examples given were "my daugther-in-law's profession" but
"the professions of both my daughters-in-law."
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Phil White » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:06 pm

Remember that the Chicago Manual of Style only provides guidance for US English, not UK English. Not only that, it is a style guide, not a grammar, and where there are several perfectly acceptable ways of doing something, it gives a preference for one way. It's an excellent style guide, and I refer to it all the time, but it's not a comprehensive description of the language.

In this case, they seem to have come to the same conclusion that I did above. It would be nice to find a few exceptions that would justify their use of "usually" rather than "always".
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by tony h » Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:43 am

I always put the apostrophe in the same place as the plural. So: Notaries public and notary's public.

But with ...-in-law. I find I use both positions but for different reasons. Being in the (unfortunate) position of having two mothers-in-law I use that form for my relatives and specific people. But talking about mother-in-laws generally that is the form I use.

I was also pleased at this post as I actually looked at the apostrophe in Dad's army. Never really noticed it but it makes the programme much more personal than say: Dad's Army or Dads Army.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Phil White » Sat Jun 12, 2010 1:52 pm

tony h wrote:I always put the apostrophe in the same place as the plural.
So "man's-of-war" then?
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by tony h » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:35 pm

Phil White wrote:
tony h wrote:I always put the apostrophe in the same place as the plural.
So "man's-of-war" then?
bugger! That's that theroy gone for a burton. Need more test cases.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Phil White » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:52 pm

For me, the Chicago rule of thumb seems to work, and the only possible exception I can find is the "xx-in-law", where both alternatives are acceptable to my ear.

"Successive Secretaries of State have argued...."
"The Secretary of State's recent speech..."

The alternative sounds abominable:
"*The Secretary's of State recent speech..."
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by zmjezhd » Sat Jun 12, 2010 5:05 pm

As an aside, this is why some linguists think that the possessive mark is not a case ending but a clitic.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Shelley » Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:26 pm

. . . gone for a burton?
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Jun 15, 2010 3:43 am

As an aside, this is why some linguists think that the possessive mark is not a case ending but a clitic.
.. and zmjezhd we all know that male linguists could not find the clitic in a sentence if their wife depended upon it ..

WoZ feeling anatomical
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by christinecornwall » Tue Jun 15, 2010 3:16 pm

and zmjezhd we all know that male linguists could not find the clitic in a sentence if their wife depended upon it ..

WoZ feeling anatomical[/quote]

Maybe they should adposition (s)
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:06 pm

Shelley wrote:. . . gone for a burton?
Sorry Shelley, I only just realised that you had asked a question. I found THIS which should explain what it means, if not how it came about.

My own feeling is that the sea was known as the drink, and they make beer in Burton.
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Re: An apostrophe question

Post by Shelley » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:14 pm

Thank you, Bobinwales!

P.S. I can well understand your distraction, given the conversation between WoZ and Christine over there . . .
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