"Spain's prince" or "Spain's prince's"

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  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?

Pedro

Posted 2013-08-31T22:26:30.177

Reputation: 235

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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 – 2013-08-31T22:45:09.750

@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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-31T22:50:49.820

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 – 2013-08-31T22:53:13.997

@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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-31T23:16:53.297

...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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-08-31T23:19:20.090

@FumbleFingers Out of curiosity, why wouldn't “wife” make sense? Woman + spouse = wife, no? – Tyler James Young – 2014-04-02T23:27:00.263

@Tyler: She's no longer in office, but at the time of this question, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was the Icelandic Prime Minister, and she's gay. Admittedly, I don't know many lesbians in long-term relationships, but I certainly never heard any of them refer to their partner as "wife". It would seem like a slightly odd usage to me, but maybe some such couples do both accept the designation for themselves and apply it to their partner.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-03T13:44:05.117

@FumbleFingers It wouldn't make sense in every long-term relationship, just ones where the two people are married, as in the case in question. – Tyler James Young – 2014-04-03T14:42:23.207

@Tyler: I think you miss my point. Although I don't know many lesbian couples, I've known many people in long-term male+male relationships, and none of them ever refer to their partner as "husband". Nor am I expecting that to change now that gay marriage (a religious ceremony, as opposed to the equivalent secular "civil partnership" which we've had for years) has just been introduced in the UK. Actually, I hadn't realised gay marriage had already been introduced in Iceland back in 2010. But of course they speak Icelandic, so they wouldn't use the words wife/husband anyway. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-04-03T15:35:13.407

Answers

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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.

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2013-08-31T22:26:30.177

Reputation: 52 587

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 – 2013-08-31T23:25:10.800

@ 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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-01T00:40:26.373

Is there a reason you're saying "Spain's prince" vs. "the Spanish prince?" "Spain's prince" sounds highly unnatural to me. – Greg Hullender – 2013-09-01T17:32:31.437

@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 Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-01T17:53:51.940

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 – 2013-09-01T18:04:58.117

@Greg: True, we just can't tell. But I'm guessing OP is really trying to get to grips with the apparently superfluous possessive apostrophe in, say, "That journey of Peter's was unnecessary". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-01T18:53:05.050

The more possessives you have, the more unlikely it is for somebody to add the superfluous one. That journey of Peter's" sounds fine, but I can't imagine anybody using the final "'s" in "the visit of the Prime Minister of Iceland's wife's". – Peter Shor – 2013-09-01T22:03:45.827

@Peter: Quite. It's a matter of "more unlikely" rather than some hard-and-fast rule. But there does seem to be something else involved in the specific case of the "superfluous" possessive apostrophe in *of X's*. I find it more or less "necessary" in my journey of Peter's example, but highly undesirable/incorrect in, say, "All I could hear was the voice of Peter's". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-01T22:17:26.080