I've drafted the following sentence:

There is also a lot of work going into creating useful, effective and ethical AI tools to save teachers time.

A grammar checker has recommended a possessive apostrophe (teachers' time).

I don't think this is strictly necessary. I understand the verb phrase to save someone something consists of a direct object (time) and an indirect object (teachers). A rephrase might be 'to save time for teachers.' However, the possessive apostrophe option does work, in that the time belongs to the teachers... So I am torn.

Another example might be:

We have a payment plan that can save your family money.


We have a payment plan that can save your family's money.

These sentences seem to have subtly different meanings, so having an option with no apostrophe seems important. Can anyone clarify?

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    Your usage is fine, despite the grammar checker’s suggestion. Commented Jun 20 at 11:51
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    teachers is definitely plural in the cited context (you'd have to say our teacher or similar if it was singular), But it has to be a possessive form, so it must be written as save teachers' time. The apostrophe makes no difference to the pronunciation, but it's required for correct orthography. Commented Jun 20 at 13:44
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    @FF Are you saying that '... to save them money ...' is incorrect? << I'll try to save him the expense of a flight from Perth. [VERB noun noun] >> [Collins] Commented Jun 20 at 13:59
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    I can certainly find examples of "to save people time" without a possessive: CNN BBC, and can save people time. (In thinking about plurals and possessives it often helps to think about plurals that don't end in s.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 20 at 14:16
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    @EdwinAshworth: I wasn't paying attention. In retrospect, I see it's possible to treat the cited utterance as "non-possessive". It's the difference between doing something to save me time or to save my time, and as that chart shows, the latter (possessive) form was overwhelmingly favoured when I was growing up and learning English. And like I say, the difference is only notional in speech (you can't hear it), so i never caught up! Commented Jun 20 at 22:08

2 Answers 2

  1. In this example, both options are valid. (It shouldn't be surprising that it was wrongly flagged, as automated grammar-checking is still imperfect).
  2. Your original is a better fit with how we idiomatically use these expressions.

To find the difference, let's find expressions where one is a better fit than the other.

  • "I want to save you time" means "I want to save time for you," i.e. I want to help you save time. As mentioned in a comment, "you" is an indirect object. If I said "I want to read you a book," I'm not reading you, I'm reading the book, and I'm reading it to you. Meanwhile, "I want to save your time" means "I want to save the time that belongs to you." There's little difference in meaning here.
  • If we change it from "time" to "money," we get a bit of difference, because "save time" just means "use less time," while "save money" can mean both "use less money" and "set aside money e.g. for investing." So "I want to save your money" is an odd choice and sounds a bit as if the speaker wants to do invest your money for you (or maybe steal it and put it in their own savings account!).
  • "Superman, save my baby!" This one only works with the possessive. "Save me baby" makes no sense (except as a Cockney accent). It's interesting that time and money are some of the few things that can be "saved someone" in this indirect-object way. I can think of a few others, like "save you the effort" and similar expressions that explain what kind of effort, like "I knew you needed milk so I went to the store to save you the trip," and the indirect-object pattern "I saved you some dinner," but that's a different meaning of "save" (reserve rather than reduce or eliminate).
  • Don't Cockneys say 'Sive me biby'? Commented Jun 20 at 19:34
  • @MichaelHarvey: No, they don't, and never did. That was some old bollocks promoted by Dickens (latterly, Hollywood actors) and his slightly ridiculous portrayal of "commoners" speech. Real Londoners / Cockneys have always said [h]ay (is for [h]orses), not high... Commented Jun 20 at 22:22
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    "Time" and "money" are noncount nouns, and so need no determiner. "Baby" is a count noun, and so does need one. "Same me a baby" is perfectly grammatical. Commented Jun 20 at 23:59
  • Food works too. "Save me some fried pickles, I want some"
    – No Name
    Commented Jun 21 at 3:00
  • @FumbleFingers - I knew that; I was being (or trying to be) facetious. Commented Jun 21 at 12:42

Use the possessive apostrophe when "of" is the ONLY correct choice in an equivalent, more wordy prepositional phrase. To illustrate, in "saving time [*] the teachers," if "for" works, then use "saving teachers time."

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    There's even more confusion with 'giving travellers cheques'. Commented Jun 20 at 18:36

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