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I've read a number of posts in threads about double possessives. However, since English is not my first language, I still have trouble understanding it. Which of the following sentences sounds unnatural to native English speakers?

A. Steven's romantic feelings for Pamela have now gone away, even though he has been in love with her for many years.

B. The romantic feelings of Steven's for Pamela have now gone away, even though he has been in love with her for many years.

C. The romantic feelings of Steven for Pamela have now gone away, even though he has been in love with her for many years.

Other sentences:

A. Michael's twin brother introduced me to Lynn.

B. The twin brother of Michael's introduced me to Lynn.

C. The twin brother of Michael introduced me to Lynn.

As far as I know, an inanimate object cannot possess anything. But I've heard (or read) some native English speakers use the double possessive for inanimate objects. Can we use sentences B, C, and D?

A. She became curious to know what the Rock FM studio was like.

B. She became curious to know what the Rock FM's studio was like.

C. She became curious to know what the studio of the Rock FM was like.

D. She became curious to know what the studio of the Rock FM's was like.

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  • There is no such thing as a 'double possessive'. Of phrases are not genitive (your possessive). They function as complement of some head noun.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

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As this Merriam-Webster article explains, a double possessive is only necessary to make things clear in otherwise ambiguous sentences, for example:

a picture of my friend - the person in the picture is my friend
a picture of my friend's - the picture belongs to my friend

It can also be used for dramatic effect

That brother of yours is an idiot!

In everyday written and spoken English, as this NGram graph shows, the apostrophe-s possessive is usually preferable to the of possessive. In addition, there is certainly no reason to use a double possessive in any of the examples that you quoted. I would therefore go for option A for the first two groups of examples, and the corrected version of B (see below), for the final group. The following sentence in particular does not sound natural at all:

B. The twin brother of Michael's introduced me to Lynn.

For the final group, Rock FM should not have a definite article, since it is a proper noun. Example A is correct because the relates to studio, not to Rock FM. The other sentences should be corrected as follows:

B. She became curious to know what Rock FM's studio was like.
C. She became curious to know what the studio of Rock FM was like.
D. She became curious to know what the studio of Rock FM's was like.

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  • Note that there is no such thing as a 'double possessive'. Of phrases are not possessive. They function as complement of some head noun.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 8:12

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