The Grammarphobia Blog

Possessed by possessives

Q: I work in a dental office and I have a possessive problem. Which of these sentences is correct? “The following is a brief description of our mutual patient, So and So’s, dentition and treatment plan.” Or: “The following is a brief description of our mutual patient’s, So and So, dentition and treatment plan.” I hope you can help me!

A: Neither one is right. In fact, there’s no smooth way to write that sentence correctly without a little surgery.

A case could be made for adding apostrophes to both “patient” and “So and So,” but you’d end up with a clunky sentence. A better solution is to reorganize the sentence.

Here’s one possibility: “The following is a brief description of the dentition and treatment plan of our mutual patient, So and So.”

Here’s another possibility: “I’ve prepared a dentition and treatment plan for our mutual patient, So and So. A brief description follows.”

One more: “Here is a brief description of the dentition and treatment plan that I have prepared for our mutual patient, So and So.”

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Easier than a root canal, anyway.

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