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A survey in which many boys revealed their girlfriend's behavior towards them after some time of their relationship.

A survey in which many boys revealed their girlfriends' behavior towards them after some time of their relationship.

How do the two sentences differ? Are both of them grammatical?

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  • Syntactically, the difference is simply one of whether we're talking about the behaviour of one or multiple girlfriends (in the former case that would definitely imply each boy had only one girlfriend, which might not be the case for the latter). But your example is partly affected by the fact that behaviour isn't an obviously "singular" concept amenable to pluralisation. Consider instead a less "muddy" context such as a survey where many men revealed their wife's job / wives' jobs. Mar 21, 2018 at 18:19
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    – James K
    Mar 21, 2018 at 19:13

3 Answers 3

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If the survey is implying that every boy has a single girlfriend then use girlfriend's. If the survey is implying that some boys have multiple girlfriends then use "girlfriends'".

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You could probably use either. Most people won't notice, especially as there is no pronunciation difference.

In general, you can try switching round to the "of" form, to see if plural or singular works better:

A survey in which many boys revealed the behaviour of their girlfriend towards them after some time of their relationship.

A survey in which many boys revealed the behaviour of their girlfriends towards them after some time of their relationship.

The first could be read to imply that there is just one girl, who is the shared girlfriend of the many boys. But pragmatically I wouldn't read it like that I would assume that each boy has one girlfriend.

The second could be read as each boy having multiple girlfriends, but again that doesn't seem to work, so I would assume there are as many girls as boys.

In other words. I will interpret pragmatically and come the exactly the same meaning for the two sentences.

So you could use either. Both are grammatically correct and when interpreted in context have the same meaning.

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There is a clear difference between the two sentences. The first indicates a singular girlfriend, implying that multiple boys share only one girlfriend. If that were the intended meaning, then that sentence would be correct.

The second indicates plural girlfriends, which is probably the intended meaning. After all, we would expect multiple boys to have multiple girlfriends.

Many people would write the first sentence when they meant the second. However, that would be technically incorrect and might confuse the reader. Therefore, if you mean the second sentence, then I recommend writing it that way.

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