For context, let me clarify. When giving ownership to a person, I can use the ’s form of that person’s name.

  1. This is Robert’s car.

When attributing ownership to two people or more, I can still add a final ’s after their two (or more) first names together as a unit:

  1. Those are Lucia and John’s cars, respectively.

Yet if I want to express ownership by people from the same family, the ’s clitic now requires the plus their last name:

  1. This is the Souza’s house.

So it’s safe to say that the followoed a family name always refers to collective ownership by several people.

With that said, what if I want to know the quantity of objects owned by a given family? Do I use a singular verb because it’s one single family taken as a whole, or do I use a plural verb because it’s multiple individuals?

So should I go with a plural verb like this:

  1. How many houses do the Souza have?

or with a singular verb like this:

  1. How many houses does the Souza have?

I’ve got a feeling I should go with plural do because I’m referring to more than one person (that is, to all the Souza family members), but I’d like my hunch confirmed or disputed so that I can be certain I’m doing this correctly.

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    How many houses do the Souzas have? (plural s), this is the Souzas' house (plural possessive of word ending in s) Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:40
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    You appear to have copied into English a Portuguese way of using the singular family name as a plural in a non-English way. In PT, the Ferreira Gomes family are os Ferreira Gomes with only a plural "the" yet plural concord for the verb: “os Ferreira Gomes são” not “os ✴Ferreiras ✴Gomeses são”. EG: “Nesse caso, os índios substimaram os Ferreira, pensando que estes fugiriam após o aviso inicial de flechadas.” In English, we pluralize the surname, saying that the Ferreiras are instead.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


First, the second paragraph in your question is incorrect.

If you're talking about individual ownership, the apostrophe goes after each person's name:

Those are Lucia's and John's cars, respectively.

If they both own the same car, then you put the apostrophe only after the last person's name:

That is Lucia and John's car.

You can't mix up the two things.

As for the main point of the question, you can use either of the following:

  • How many houses do the Suozas have?
  • How many houses does the Souza family have?

Note the plurality in the first version, but without the use of an apostrophe.

  • But if they both own more than one car, then "Lucia and John's cars" would be correct, right?
    – AIQ
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:47
  • Maybe I didn't explain myself clearly. On the second paragraph, by "Those are Lucia and John's cars, respectively", I meant that each one has a different car, that's why car is in the plural and then I added, respectively because I'm mentioning one car after the other, while still referring to its owner, for each. But thank you for the hint, by putting the last name in the plural, I guess it makes more evident and therefore less likely to have that doubt I did before. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:51
  • @AIQ No. It would still be Lucia's and John's cars, it would simply be ambiguous how many cars each of them has. If they jointly own more than a single car, then it would be Lucia and John's cars. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 22:03
  • @RodolfoFerreira Yes, exactly. I understood what you were saying. Lucia has a car, so it's Lucia's car (with an apostrophe), and John has a car, so it's John's car with an apostrophe. Put them together, and it's Lucia's and John's cars. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 22:05
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    @RodolfoFerreira Right. You can still say John's and Lucia's cars, but it's ambiguous how many cars each of them actually has. (Normally, we would assume one each, but that doesn't have to be the case.) You have to phrase it differently if you want to be specific, and all of your variations are possible. It just comes down to which sounds best—or, possibly, which sounds the least bad, if you don't like any of them. An alternative (which you might think sounds just as bad) is Those are Lucia's two cars and John's single car. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 22:19

If you want to talk about "the people called 'Souza'", they are "The Souzas" (plural), and so if you must you can say "the Souzas' house" (again plural).

As a question, "How many houses do the Souzas have". You use "do" because "the Souzas" is plural.

Its possible to use "Souza" attributively and say "How many houses does the Souza family have?" This time it is the singular "family" so we use "does".

I feel there is a bit of translationese in this structure. Houses are not usually owned by a family. Normally a couple will own the house, and their children live in the house without having any ownership of it. It is often not public what the legal ownership of a house is. It would be more natural to say "How many houses does Rodolfo own?" rather than speak of "the Ferreiras".

  • Yeah but doesn't THE already indicate more than one person? I mean, do I always have to type the surname in plural? As far as I know, THE doesn't come before a first name - that's because for INDIVIDUAL ownership, THE isn't used. Am I correct? Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:58
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    @RodolfoFerreira It's possible to use the plural with first names too. For example, John Smith and John Doe went for a walk. The Johns were known for walking together. If multiple people share the same name (first or last) you can use the plural to describe them collectively. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 22:12
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    The word "the" doesn't indicate more than one person; you need to use the plural of the surname. You are treating the name as a common noun if you use "the", and since it is always used to refer to more than one person in this context, you must use the plural. It is also possible to use the name attributively "The Souza family" and this is probalby better in most cases.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 22:37
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    @RodolfoFerreira How many cars does the Pope have? "The" just indicates that there is some form of title at play, it does not indicated whether it is for an individual or a group. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 8:30
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    I don't think it's translationese at all, though the first thing I thought of was adult children, for example "How many houses do the Clintons own?" including parents Bill and Hillary plus their daughter Chelsea.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 14:17

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