Direct sequencing detected a heterozygous rs123456 mutation of the ABC gene in the mother of patient P20, who suffers from impaired carbohydrate metabolism.

The clause "who suffers from impaired carbohydrate metabolism" may point at "patient P20". Can anything be done to make it unambiguously point at "mother"?

Can one write:

Direct sequencing detected a heterozygous rs123456 mutation of the ABC gene in patient P20's mother, who suffers from impaired carbohydrate metabolism.

Or would "patient P20's mother" look strange?

  • 3
    Your rewrite is entirely acceptable and unambiguous. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 28 '16 at 12:18
  • @StoneyB - thank you! I thought it would be weird because we usually use the possessive s on personal names. – CowperKettle Jun 28 '16 at 12:20
  • 4
    In this context "P20" is the patient's name. But the possessive 's is not confined to names: My car's gas gauge is broken. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 28 '16 at 12:25
  • I think the original is OK if you are careful. Because the "mutation" (your subject) is more likely to be in "the mother who suffers", unless you happen to be talking about the medical conditions of two people in one sentence. I imagine that the person reading this would have the technical knowledge to know that. Literally, "patient P20" only IDs the relationship to the mother). – user3169 Jun 28 '16 at 17:28

As has been established by the able first commenter, yes, you can use 's to express the relationship between P20 and P20's mother, and it does not seem strange.

You may have been led to reluctance or doubt because:

Perhaps the something of something form is used in another language you know. English learners often commit more frank errors for this reason, like the pencil of my classmate.

It is sometimes taught that something of something must be used to express family relationships, creation, and place

The sister of the tall boy.

The ninth symphony of Beethoven.

The food capital of Europe.

In fact this is normally just an alternative to possessive s, used to shift back an element for emphasis, or to achieve a more formal style.

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