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If the name in the sentence contains an appostive, does it change the location of the apostrophe?

For example:

John Smith's car is red

Now imagine I have an appostive to that subject that comes before the possession object of the sentence, would the apostrophe's location be:

John Smith's - my very father - car is red

or

John Smith - my very father's - car is red

That question came up in my mind after listening to an american podcast where the host used a sentence in the latter manner.

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  • Is my very father mi proprio padre? If so, the English is: my own father. In which case, you need to change your sentence. My own father's car is red. El carro de mi proprio padre es rojo.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 8 at 17:20
  • And an English speaker likely wouldn't normally include the "own', "My father" determines who is being discussed with enough particularity. Commented Jan 8 at 17:45
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    Does this answer your question? Possessive with Two Nouns. See also "Nikki's and Alice's cars" vs. "Nikki and Alice's cars" on ELU. Commented Jan 8 at 20:20
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    You might want to consider how many Anglophones are quite happy to write my wife and I's [jointly-owned thing]. The possessive apostrophe can apply to any length/complexity of antecedent. Commented Jan 8 at 22:22
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    Any structure that paints you into a corner screams for a rewrite. Commented Jan 8 at 23:21

2 Answers 2

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Your example has the appositive NP as a supplement (as opposed to an integrated one). A supplementation consisting of one NP as anchor and another as supplement may have either multiple or singular marking.

John Smith's, my father's, car is red.

John Smith, my father's car is red.

The multiple-marking version is preferred in writing, probably because it allows the supplement to be set off by paired commas (or dashes). But it is the singular-marking version that is usually heard.

EDIT: The acceptability of the above examples is marginal. This is not because of doubts about the punctuation, but because the proper name should be the appositive element, not the head:

My father's, John Smith's, car is red.

My father, John Smith's car is red.

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  • Is this based on your feeling as a native speaker (as my answer is), or can you source this?
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 10 at 19:42
  • @gotube It's based on intuition reinforced by attested examples cited in H&P's CGEL. The OP's example does sound odd, though it's not because of the punctuation but because the proper name should be the appositive element, not the head. I've added an edit to my answer to support this.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 11 at 8:24
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I don't believe there's any way to structure that sentence with "John Smith" and "my father" in that order to express possession of the car. It would have to be reworded so that the noun phrase and apposition were the possessed object, rather than the possessor with "'s" alone:

John Smith's car -- my father's car -- is red.

As to your two examples, the first one is out because you can never say, "my father car". The second one is closer, but doesn't work either because the "my father's" is an adjective phrase, so it cannot be in apposition to "John Smith", which is a noun phrase.

The closest I can come to acceptable is to put possession on both nouns:

*John Smith's -- my father's --(??) car is red.

This doesn't work either in writing or in casual speech. In writing, you need a dash (--) before "my father's", but you cannot have a dash after it (hence the ?? above) because it would visually break up the noun phrase "my father's car". You also can't have just one and not the other.

In speech, there are no punctuation marks, but if you put the possessive on both nouns, it sounds like you're correcting yourself or revising your sentence to begin with "My father's...". A listener would not likely understand the second to be an appositive.

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  • If this was correct, we'd expect My wife's and I's seafood dinner. but nobody says that. There's only one "act of possession" involved, so regardless of whether that possession is by multiple entities, or one entity referred to in multiple ways, there's only one possessive apostrophe. Commented Jan 9 at 11:30
  • The OP's example has the appositive NP as a supplement (as opposed to an integrated one). A supplementation consisting of one NP as anchor and another as supplement may have either multiple or singular marking. Thus we can say "John Smith's, my father's, car" or "John Smith, my father's car". The multiple-marking version is preferred in writing, but in speech it is the singular-marking version that is usually heard.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 9 at 14:07
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    @BillJ "John Smith's, my father's, car" or "John Smith, my father's car"" Huh? Those are unacceptable any way you look at it...
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 9 at 14:52
  • The issue with proper names is that they should really occur as the appositive element, not the head as it does in the OP's example Thus, "my father's", John Smith's, car" and "my father, John Smith's car" would be much preferred.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 9 at 18:07
  • @FumbleFingers Why do you assert that there's only one possessive apostrophe? What you say is true about lists of nouns that collectively possess something, but the question is about an appositive construction, not a list, so your answer isn't relevant. Your conclusion might still be right, but please show that it's true about appositives, and not lists.
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 10 at 6:10

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