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Let's imagine the following situation:

My mom has a boyfriend and her boyfriend has a car.

I borrowed this car and I want to tell another person who is the owner of this car, I believe I have to use 's twice in this sentence:

This is my mom's boyfriend's car.

Honestly I think that this is correct, but I am unsure if I can use the 's twice or more in this sentence, is this correct? Could I go even further than that?

This is my mom's boyfriend's brother's car.

Thanks a lot!

  • 6
    That's fine. There is theoretically no limit on consecutive possessives; but of course at some point your reader is going to give up and go read something else! – StoneyB May 13 '15 at 17:13
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    Even in speech you have to eventually apologetically shrug as the list of possessives gets longer… & hope your audience either keeps up, or just sees the funny side. Wild gesticulation in an attempt to separate the relationships by mime is optional ;) – Tetsujin May 13 '15 at 17:30
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    An overly long series of possessives is often used humorously to indicate that a rumor is untrustworthy. "Did you hear about John and Mary? Well my mother's sister's neighbor's son's best friend's doctor was there and she saw the whoooole thing." The rumor-teller believes the rumor but the long list of possessives tells the reader that it is probably not true. I just thought I'd add this as it's something you might run into sooner or later. – Jason Patterson May 13 '15 at 20:28
10

Yep, it works fine.

  1. my mom

    This is a noun phrase (NP). The head is mom, and its determiner is my.

    [my mom]'s

    We've added the genitive 's, so now it's a genitive noun phrase. Genitive NPs can be determiners in larger noun phrases:

  2. [my mom]'s boyfriend

    Now we've made a larger NP. Its determiner is the genitive NP [my mom]'s, which we made in step one.

    [[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s

    Now we've added the genitive 's again, so we've got a genitive NP again.

  3. [[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s brother

    This whole thing is an NP. Its determiner is the genitive NP [[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s.

    [[[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s brother]'s

    Now we've made it into a genitive NP. Again.

  4. [[[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s brother]'s car

    This is another NP. Its determiner is the genitive NP [[[my mom]'s boyfriend]'s brother]'s.

As you can see, we're repeating the same operations over and over. You can do it as much as you like. Eventually you'll probably amuse or confuse your conversation partner, though.

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