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Sentence: I'm glad he didn't see me in one of The Harrows' classes.

context: there are two people with the surname "Harrow" and both of them hold classes. They are nicknamed by students as "The Harrows".

I'm just unsure about what I did with the possessive apostrophe in this case.

  • it would seem that given that phrase invented by the students, it has to be: The Harrows' classes. How else could you possibly write it? – Lambie Apr 17 '18 at 13:49
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I have a suggestion that bypasses the problem altogether. (Generally speaking, if something looks strange, even if it's technically correct, you should rephrase it.)

I'm glad he didn't see me in a Harrow class.

In this case, Harrow acts an an adjective. Just as does math in I'm glad he didn't see me in a math class.

There is no need to use the nickname. Also, if you did use the nickname, you could not say in a The Harrows class, and would have to rephrase it:

I'm glad he didn't see me in a class taught by The Harrows.

In response to "Which one?", you would clarify, "Oh, I mean Phil Harrow," or, "Either one.")

If you really want to keep the possessive form of the original sentence there is only one way of doing so:

I'm glad he didn't see me in Phil Harrow's class or Zoe Harrow's class.


You can also consider a simpler example that has fewer issues.

There are two professors, A. Smith and J. Smith. The following is perfectly correct but leads to ambiguity:

"I'm glad he didn't see me in Smith's class."

In actuality, to avoid ambiguity, you would say:

I"m glad he didn't see me in A. Smith's class or J. Smith's class.

Or, you could rephrase it as I did the original problem:

I'm glad he didn't see me in a Smith class.

What you would not do is use a possessive form of a plural:

I'm glad he didn't see me in (one of) the Smiths' classes.

It's wrong, because it implies joint ownership. They don't both teach the same class. If this simplified version is wrong, then it needs to be rephrased. This is no different from the more complex version—it's just that the more complex version misleads with other considerations.

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    "Harrow class" implies that it's a class about Harrow. The sentence given does not imply join ownership; possession of plural nouns is generally understood to mean that different people possess different ones. – Acccumulation Apr 17 '18 at 19:43
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    @Acccumulation Technically, yes. It would be a class about Harrow. But in this specific case, nobody will misunderstand the meaning—if there are no classes about Harrow but only those taught by (a) Harrow. As for joint ownership, if they did both teach the same class how would you punctuate it? The Smiths' class. Perhaps in this context the meaning would be known. But I would still not recommend it. In any case, at least a couple of my alternatives are correct on every level. – Jason Bassford Apr 17 '18 at 19:52
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    If there were one class, then referring to as "The Smiths' class" would convey that they both teach it. If they have several classes, it would take more work to make it clear. – Acccumulation Apr 17 '18 at 20:02
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I don't think you should capitalise 'the' in "the Harrows". With a plural noun that already ends in 's', including proper nouns, we add an apostrophe after the 's': a girls’ school, two weeks’ time, the horses’ stables, the Harrows' classes.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/apostrophe

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01/

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