StreetWrites Workshop for Writing Out of the Margins

The Hazards of Possessiveness

Possessiveness causes as many problems in grammar as it does in personal relationships. Can a chair own a cushion? If it does, is it its cushion or it's cushion?

Here's some guidelines:

From Patricia T. O'Conner in Woe is I - The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

"TOMBSTONE: Only living things can form the possessive with 's.
R.I.P. According to this musty old custom, you wouldn't say the piano's leg (You'd make it the leg of the piano), or the house's roof (You'd say the roof of the house). Apparently, inanimate things aren't as possessive as living ones. Silly, right? Well, this book's position is that yesterday's custom can be safely ignored.

There's nothing wrong with using whose to refer to inanimate objects, either: Never buy a house whose roof leaks or a piano whose leg is wobbly."

When IT becomes possessive (as in "its roof was leaking), there is no apostrophe. The only time to use "it's" is when you mean "it is".

The same is also true of the possessive form of "your", which becomes "yours", and "her," which becomes "hers." Example: "Is this yours?" "No, it is hers." Again, no apostrophe.


Write On!
Anitra L. Freeman

StreetWrites Workshop Exercises