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Grammar Repair Shop: Puzzling possessives

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Most problems with possessives occur in these two situations:

Problem 1: Words that end in "s."

Lesson: When making a common noun possessive, add an "'s."

"Boss" becomes "boss's."

Lesson: When using a proper noun, let the pronunciation guide you. If a new syllable is required to pronounce the name in possessive form, add an apostrophe plus "s."

"Mr. Jones's office is to the left."

If using another syllable would be awkward to pronounce, use only the apostrophe.

Example: "Mr. Hastings' office is to the right."

Problem 2: Dual possession. Which is correct? "I put Tom and Wendy's reports on your desk." Or "I put Tom's and Wendy's reports on your desk."

Answer: It depends.

Lesson: If both people worked on the reports, the first sentence ("Tom and Wendy's") is correct. In other words, you would make the noun possessive (Wendy) that's closest to the object possessed (reports).

Lesson: If you're referring to two reports that each person worked on separately, the second answer ("Tom's and Wendy's") is correct.

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