Joint Possession (we’re not talking pot laws)

Dear Copy Bitch: Which one is correct:

  1. Erik and Anne’s clients are neighbors and friends. 
  2. Erik’s and Anne’s clients are neighbors and friends.

I think it’s the latter, but wanted to check.

—Michelle D., Connecticut

Answer: It all depends on your intended meaning. The first sentence shows joint possession, meaning that Erik and Anne have the same clients who also happen to be neighbors and friends. What makes it joint possession? The fact that the last noun only (i.e. “Anne”) has an apostrophe and an “s.” 

In the second sentence (which shows individual possession since both names have an apostrophe and “s”), Erik and Anne have their own clients. Erik’s clients happen to be neighbors and friends, and Anne’s clients happen to be neighbors and friends.

I’m thinking an argument could be made to interpret the second sentence like this: Erik’s clients are friends and neighbors with Anne’s clients. The key, though, is that we’re talking about two separate client lists based on the use of that stinky apostrophe. I’d be curious to hear what other grammar geeks think on this one.

Hope this helps.

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3 replies
  1. Steve
    Steve says:

    I agree, mostly. But out of context, it’s hard to tell.

    The first sentence seems to imply that Erik and Anne work together with the same clients. The second sentence implies that Erik has a set of clients and Anne has a different set of clients, but each set is made up of neighbors and friends. Whether both sets are neighbors and friends remains unclear.

  2. robynbradley
    robynbradley says:

    Exactly, Steve. When I emailed Michelle with my answer (what? you thought the question wasn’t real?) and asked her what her intended meaning was, she wrote back that Erik and Anne are a husband and wife team with the same clients. As a result, she should use sentence #1.


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