Let me more specific here

For the last two decades, people's interest in their ancestor's family, cultural and living background have been increasing.

There are two questions.

The first question is about the correct usage of a phrase: For the last two decades is being used as a phrase. Is it correct to use like this?. I think there are no specific rules for phrase-making.

The second question is on the usage of apostrophe rules: I'm trying to use apostrophe rules in the next phrase. But the Possession now belongs to three items (family, cultural, living). Is it correct to use in this manner?:

people's interest in their ancestor's family, cultural and living background have been increasing.

Or in the presence of possessive adjective (their), I simply should write as:

people's interest in their ancestor family, living, cultural background have been increasing.


2 Answers 2


You are talking about several things that are possessed.

  • People's interest (a plural word ending in a letter other than s, accepts 's to show possession)

  • Their [people] ancestors (a possessive plural pronoun needing no modification)

  • Ancestors' background[s] (many ancestors as opposed to one ancestor, pluralized by adding s' -- and many backgrounds, since you refer to many ancestors)

Additionally you need to list the adjectives describing the types of backgrounds so the reader can easily identify the list as describing the backgrounds as opposed to being a separate phrase.

People's interest in their ancestors' family, cultural, and living backgrounds has been increasing.

  • I'm not sure what a "living background" is but if it works......
    – EllieK
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:16

"For the last two decades" is good and valid here. I'm not sure why you think it might not be, so I don't know what more to say.

"Ancestor" should be possessive. The presence of "their" does not change this. It is quite possible to have a "double possessive" like this. They are the "ancestors" of the "people", so it is appropriate to use the possessive "their". But the "background" belongs to the "ancestors", so "ancestors" should also be possessive. It's fairly common to say things like "Bob's dog's leash", meaning the dog belongs to Bob and the leash belongs to the dog. Or "my boss's office", meaning the boss belongs to me and the office belongs to the boss. Etc.

Note that you need the "and" in "family, living, and cultural". You had this in the first two versions of the sentence but dropped it in the last. I'm not sure if that was just a mistake or if you were thinking there was some reason to drop it.

Also, we almost surely mean that the background belongs to all of the persons ancestors, or at least to a long line of them, so "ancestors" should be plural. So it should be:

For the last two decades, people's interest in their ancestors' family, cultural and living background have been increasing.

That is, "ancestors'", not "ancestor's". Plural possessive.

  • A couple more commas are needed to express the thought clearly. Background should probably be plural to match ancestors. "...people's interest in their ancestors' family, cultural, and living background[s]..." This way we see family, cultural, and living as a list of background types. Otherwise "cultural and living background" becomes a phrase and we have to wrestle it into the sentence.
    – EllieK
    Jul 3, 2017 at 13:25
  • @EllieK "Background" can be singular if you think of your ancestors as sharing the same background, or all of them together making up a "mosaic" background. It can be plural if you think of each ancestor as having a different background. It's probably a subtle distinction in context.
    – Jay
    Jul 3, 2017 at 13:39
  • I considered that and agree with the point you make. However, considering the list of background types referenced (family, cultural, and living) it's unlikely that the plurality shares all of them in common. The singular "mosaic background" you speak of belongs not to the ancestors but the writer. I would suggest that pluralizing "background" makes the sentence easier to read without altering its meaning.
    – EllieK
    Jul 3, 2017 at 13:55
  • 1
    Isn't it more elegant to turn the construction round to avoid the second apostrophe altogether? "For the last two decades, people's interest in the family, cultural and living backgrounds of their ancestors has been increasing". Also "has" rather than "have" since interest is singular. Jan 30, 2018 at 15:00
  • @AlfredArmstrong "interest ... has been" Duh, yes, you're right. I missed that.
    – Jay
    Jan 30, 2018 at 16:02

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