8

I just read another question where someone mentioned "driver's license" is more used than "driving license" in the US.

How do I pluralize "driver's license"?

Driver's licenses

or

Drivers' licenses

Same question, but suppose there are lots of girls and I want to talk about their heads. Should it be girl's heads or girls' heads?

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    In British English, we avoid this issue entirely by calling it a "driving license". :-) – David Richerby Dec 26 '17 at 21:04
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    Not every State uses the "driver's license" name. For example, New York terms theirs a "driver license", so you can do it that way too. – K.A.Monica Dec 27 '17 at 2:29
  • @David you beat me to it! :o) – Will Crawford Dec 29 '17 at 19:41
  • Same with (UK) "fishing licence". Not sure what that makes a "dog licence" ... – Will Crawford Dec 29 '17 at 19:41
19

Actually, the plural form of a driver's license should be driver's licenses because driver's is fixed in form here and is used as an adjective rather than a possessive. This is very common for products and utility items. For instance: McDonald's burgers, Wendy's salads, electrician's scissors, programmer's text editors, a voters' strike, children's beds, kids' TV et cetera. All these examples represent the same phenomenon where the apostrophe-s construction no longer indicates possession, but acts as a descriptive word the way a regular adjective does. So, if I say:

Do you know how to tie the angler's loop?

Well, it's quite obvious that this does not refer to a loop that's owned by a particular angler that only you and I know about, but rather it's describing the category of loops the loop under discussion belongs to.

It's a totally different story when we're dealing with the real possessive case. We're going to say a girl's head if we're talking about only one girl and girls' heads if we're talking about more than one girl. Of course, it's also possible to say a girl's heads, but in this case we're assuming that the girl has not one but several heads! Maybe, she literally has several heads (scary!) or she's just holding a bunch of doll heads in her hand or something to that effect. So, there's nothing surprising here, just standard English grammar.

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    If someone is pointing some drivers (persons) and say "these drivers' licenses". If someone is pointing at some licenses (things) on table and say "these driver's licenses". It depends on the context what we are talking about. Am I right or not? I'm not sure about it, just a doubt. – Raj 33 Dec 26 '17 at 6:34
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    That's exactly right. But this issue arises only in writing because in real speech all of these different variations would sound exactly the same. – Michael Rybkin Dec 26 '17 at 6:40
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    Yeah, but there is only one McDonald and one Wendy. Each driver's license is of a different person unless one person has a bunch of these licenses. – Nick Dec 26 '17 at 6:55
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    You may be right, though. This is a tough one as we are talking about a compound noun. I've upvoted you for that reason. – Nick Dec 26 '17 at 7:00
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    Thank you, I didn't know possessive like driver's can be used as an adjective, learned a lot! – Ives Dec 26 '17 at 7:20
3

I agree above that it would be driver's licenses because it is fixed in form. It would also be girls' heads because you are talking about multiple girls in this instance. Chances are that one girl doesn't have multiple heads.

This is only for writing these two possibilities out as both are pronounced the same way, i.e., driver's, drivers', and drivers are all pronounced the same way and so are girl's, girls', and girls. This only matters for purposes of spelling.

I hope that might have helped you out, Ives. Take care and good luck.

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    Thank you, Does Their drivers' licenses look natural? – Ives Dec 26 '17 at 5:54
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    Yes, it would be fine. In fact, many native speakers just write drivers rather than driver's or drivers' in these situations because it is a compound noun rather than a possessive adjective--that is, one could not replace drivers' with the possessive adjective their to form "Their their licenses". Do you comprehend what I'm trying to say here? – Nick Dec 26 '17 at 6:07
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    "These drivers' licenses" would be correct if talking about "their licenses", but it should be "he has many driver's licenses" if talking about the compound noun. – Nick Dec 26 '17 at 7:06

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