joint vs. separate possession
Ever write something like “Mike and Kelly’s house” and wonder where the apostrophes are supposed to go? Do you place the apostrophe and the “s” on the end of both names or just on the last one? Well, you’re in luck. We’re going to solve this mystery for you today.

When we talk about two people (or two things) owning something, they can either own it together or own it separately. For example, let’s imagine that we’re friends with a couple named Mike and Kelly. Mike and Kelly invited us over for dinner this evening, so if we had to write an email to tell someone where we’re going, we might write this:

  • “We’re going to Mike and Kelly’s house tonight.”

In this case, we’re talking about going to a house that Mike and Kelly own together. This is called “joint possession.” Because Mike and Kelly jointly own the house, we add the “-’s” on the second name only (i.e., “Kelly”). If we reversed the order of the names in the sentence (i.e., “Kelly and Mike’s house”), we would still place the “-’s” on the second name.

Now, let’s say that Mike and Kelly are going on vacation, and they’re checking in for their flight. To describe the end of the process, we might write something like this:

  • “The check-in agent just printed out Mike’s and Kelly’s boarding passes.”

In this example, we’re talking about two different boarding passes: one for Mike and one for Kelly. Each passenger on a flight needs a separate boarding pass, so Mike and Kelly “own” their boarding passes separately. This is what we call “separate possession.” Because Mike and Kelly have separate boarding passes, we add the “-’s” on the ends of both names.

In sum, to figure out whether you need to add the possessive marker “-’s” to all nouns in a sentence or just to the last noun, think about whether the thing being owned is jointly or separately owned by the nouns. If all of the people, for example, own the object together, place the “-s” on the last name only. If everyone owns a separate object, however, place the “-’s” on the end of each name.

Have any lingering questions about joint versus separate possession? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll do our best to incorporate your questions into one of our upcoming posts.

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Joint versus separate possession: owning things together or separately
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