1. The king underwrote the journey of Spain's prince.

  2. The king underwrote the journey of Spain's prince's.

We have a double possessive here, we are referring to the journey of the prince of Spain. How do we express that in a sentence? If I were refer, say, to a house that belongs to may uncle I would say "the house of my uncle's". For this reason I think the second sentence is correct but it sounds a bit odd. Can you help me?

  • 2
    People don't say "Spain's prince", they say "the prince of Spain". See Ngram. This may be why the sentences sound odd. – Peter Shor Aug 31 '13 at 22:45
  • @Peter: But there's nothing unusual about Iceland's prime minister. Grammatically speaking, I mean. I must admit I was surprised after choosing that particular leader at random to discover that his independently globe-trotting wife is gay! – FumbleFingers Aug 31 '13 at 22:50
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: Small correction — her globe-trotting wife. And your link is about Iceland's prime minister's wife's visit to China, which is a triple possessive. – Peter Shor Aug 31 '13 at 22:53
  • @Peter: Ooops! I didn't read beyond the headline. It's a bizarre headline though, given that obviously both partners are gay. I'm not sure "wife" makes a lot of sense there either, but I suppose that's because it's a Chinese newspaper (which may well affect the phrasing grammatically, politically, and sociologically). – FumbleFingers Aug 31 '13 at 23:16
  • ...also, Iceland's prime minister's wife's visit involves a "true and necessary" triple possessive, whereas the visit of Iceland's prime minister's wife's would be a superfluous quadruple possessive. – FumbleFingers Aug 31 '13 at 23:19

The double possessive is much more likely with pronouns, as discussed in this related ELU question (it's normally friend of mine/yours/his/ours/theirs/etc., rather than of me/you/him/us/them).

With actual nouns, it's largely a matter of personal choice whether to use a friend of Peter or of Peter's. Some pedants might object that the possessive apostrophe is redundant - but the usage has long been commonplace, and it would be perverse to say it's been "wrong" all the time.

Having said that, I doubt anyone would seriously endorse OP's triple possessive of Spain's prince's (which wouldn't be any better as of the prince of Spain's). It's just stylistically clumsy.

  • The journey of the prince of Spain is a triple possessive? The are just the possesions, the Spain possessses the prince and the prince posseses a visit.. – Pedro Aug 31 '13 at 23:25
  • @ Pedro: The journey of the prince of Spain is just two perfectly normal possessive of's (which could be expressed as Spain's prince's journey, though that's a bit clumsy). The usage in your title (the journey of Spain's prince's) involves a third (superfluous) possessive (the apostrophe after prince), which I assume is what you're asking about here. But idiomatically, when people talk about the "double possessive", they just mean the use of both of and apostrophe for the same "possessive relationship", regardless of any other possessive relationships there are. – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '13 at 0:40
  • Is there a reason you're saying "Spain's prince" vs. "the Spanish prince?" "Spain's prince" sounds highly unnatural to me. – Greg Hullender Sep 1 '13 at 17:32
  • @Greg: There are two slightly different usages involved here, as illustrated by Australia's Kylie Minogue is well-known all around the world and Britain's Prime Minister is well-known (the first categorises the one-and-only Kylie as Australian, the second tells us which particular Prime Minister is being referenced). For many of us OP's specific noun prince falls somewhere between those two usages. – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '13 at 17:53
  • That's certainly why it sounds unnatural. "Spain's prince" implies there is only one. Could make sense in context, I suppose. If every nation sent one prince to a contest and the king chose to fund Spain's prince's proposal. But I suspect that's not the actual context of the sentence. He probably really does want "The king underwrote the Spanish prince's journey." We just can't tell at this point. – Greg Hullender Sep 1 '13 at 18:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.