Which of these two constructions would be correct if John and Rob each wrote a separate report and the administrative assistant filed them both?

  • The administrative assistant filed John’s and Rob’s report.
  • The administrative assistant filed John and Rob’s report.

The rule about handling possessives with joint and separate ownership is pretty straightforward: In sentences describing joint ownership, only the second (or last, if we have more than two) noun or pronoun should be possessive, whereas in cases of separate ownership, both (or all) nouns or pronouns should be possessive.

In this case, then—each person having produced a separate report—the apostrophes in the first sentence are correct.

However, if you said that neither of these sentences is correct, you’re right! If each person has generated a separate report, then the word report should be plural:

  • The administrative assistant filed John’s and Rob’s reports.

In a different scenario, if John and Rob had collaborated on a single report, the correct construction would be the second one:

  • The administrative assistant filed John and Rob’s report.

Sometimes punctuation serves not only to enhance readability but also to convey meaning. The writer’s decision about which names to make possessive affects the reader’s interpretation of the sentence: did the assistant file two reports—one authored by John and one authored by Rob—or only one report written by both John and Rob?

(For another example of punctuation affecting the meaning of a sentence, see the post on the Oxford comma.)

Here are two additional examples followed by explanations:

  • We are planning to attend Sam and Teresa’s retirement party. (One party is being held to celebrate both people’s retirement, so the party “belongs,” so to speak, to them jointly.)
  • We are planning to attend the party honoring Sam’s and Teresa’s outstanding sales records. (Each of them possesses a separate, individual sales record; we have two records, not a single record jointly owned.)
  • When I went to my husband’s family reunion, I finally met Joe’s and Martha’s parents. (Joe and Martha are not siblings; they do not “own” the same set of parents.)
  • When I went to my husband’s family reunion, I finally met Tim and Sally’s parents. (Tim and Sally are siblings; they do “own” the same set of parents.)

And that’s how we differentiate between joint and separate ownership.

This blog features several other posts about when and how to make words possessive, so be sure to check them out, too:

Have a question? Drop it in the comment section below. I love hearing from readers.

Test Yourself

    1. We complained to the housekeeping service when the trash receptacles in Hal and Barb’s offices had not been emptied for three days. [They work in separate offices.]
    2. Small Town and Eden’s population increases in the last decade have been staggering, despite economic hardships endured by both counties.
    3. After the ceremony, everyone who attended Nancy’s and Tom’s wedding walked across the street to the reception.
    4. Susan and Richard’s proposals were outstanding, so the company has funded both of the projects for the next fiscal year.
    5. The seamstress had to alter both Emily and Julie’s dress before the party.


    1. Hal’s and Barb’s offices
    2. Small Town’s and Eden’s population increases
    3. Nancy and Tom’s wedding
    4. Susan’s and Richard’s proposals
    5. Emily’s and Judy’s dresses

Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2023.