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e-newsletter is a great help to many English learners. It has a simple, clear way of explaining matters we used to consider difficult.
Today let’s look into a seldom-discussed subject that’s quite a mouthful: compound possessives with nouns and pronouns.
Have a look at this sentence: Cesar’s and Maribel’s houses are both lovely. Note the ’s at
the end of each name. This tells us that Cesar and Maribel each own their own house.
But when two people share ownership, the ’s goes after the second name only. The sentence Cesar and Maribel’s houses are both lovely refers to houses co-owned by Cesar and Maribel.
However, if one—or both—of the joint owners is written as a pronoun, the possessive form is required for both: his and Maribel’s house, Cesar’s and my house, her and my house, your and their house.
As the above examples demonstrate, compound possessives with pronouns require possessive adjectives (my, your, her, our, their). Avoid possessive pronouns (mine, yours, hers, ours, theirs) in such constructions.
It should be mentioned that compound possessives are often clunky as well as confusing. For instance, a picture of her and Cesar’s house could refer to a photo of “her” in front of the house that Cesar owns or a photo of the house that she and Cesar co-own. Big difference. Such ambiguous sentences should probably just be rewritten.
* * * * *
Last week we received this interesting note from a correspondent in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
“The M.C. and I” is the title of a New York Times Book Review piece on Joel Grey’s new memoir. When I saw it I thought, Is that
grammatically correct? I don’t even know how to think about figuring that out. Most titles aren’t sentences. I doubt
The King and I would have gotten by all these years if it weren’t correct.
We’ve found that for every title like “The M.C. and I,” The King and I, and You and I (an album by singer-songwriter
Jeff Buckley) there are several like You, Me, and the Apocalypse (TV series), Me Talk Pretty One Day (book), Me and the Colonel (movie), “Me and Bobby McGee” (popular song), and on and on.
Here’s our theory: the subject pronoun I in a title like The King and I sends a subliminal message that what you are about to
experience is high-minded and edifying. The King and I is a beloved Broadway musical about a prim Englishwoman who served in the court of the king
of Siam in the 1860s. Consider the exotic subject matter and the sophisticated target audience and you can understand why The King and Me was not
Jeff Buckley, who died at the age of thirty, was an intense artist whose brief life was haunted by tragedy. You and I was released years after his
death. Under these dark circumstances, those entrusted with his legacy must have felt that You and Me lacked the appropriate gravitas.
Now look at those other examples. The titles are meant to disarm us with humor or folksiness. They encourage a bond of easy intimacy between author and
audience. There’s something comfortable about Me in a title and something more reserved and aloof about I.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Choose the best sentences. Our answers are at the end of the newsletter.
A) Randy returned to he and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
B) Randy returned to his and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
C) Randy returned to him and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
D) Randy returned to himself and his wife’s farm in Kansas.
A) Chris and my screenplay is almost finished.
B) Me and Chris’s screenplay is almost finished.
C) Chris’s and my screenplay is almost finished
D) Myself and Chris’s screenplay is almost finished.
A) They and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
B) Their and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
C) Them and their children’s house was getting a new porch.
D) Them and their children were getting a new porch for their house.
E) They and their children were getting a new porch for their house.
A) Your and her dog is on my lawn.
B) Yours and her dog is on my lawn.
C) Hers and your dog is on my lawn.
D) Rewrite the sentence.
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Pop Quiz Answers
3. E (B is correct, but awkward)
4. D (A is correct, but awkward)
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.