First, I verified (via Wikipedia) that Ruth did indeed buy a steakhouse previously owned by Chris. The name of that steakhouse? Chris Steakhouse. Why not Chris's Steakhouse or Chris' Steakhouse? Was the owner grammatically challenged? Or was there possibly a method to his madness?
One clue is that there is a tradition in English of sometimes using a name as an identifier or label, instead of treating the name as the owner of an item. Thus, the Joneses' house may be called simply the Jones house. You may especially notice this in historic houses, such as the Calvert House Inn, located in College Park, Maryland, or the Warfield Building at the hospital where my mother worked, or the Stephen D. Lee Home Museum in Columbus, Mississippi. Thus Chris's Steakhouse becomes Chris Steakhouse (although without the word the. Hmmm. And Chris was his first name.)
Another related fact may be this one. I recently read an article on Merriam-Webster.com about why we may sometimes say "probly" instead of "probably." The article said that in the spoken language we tend to omit duplicate syllables. So "prob-bob-ly" becomes "probly." In the same way, "Chris-es Steakhouse" may become "Chris Steakhouse."
So the reason for the single apostrophe in Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is not from any particular grammar rule about two apostrophes. But now that I 've said that, what is the rule for compound possessive? Are we allowed to say something like this?
The dog's collar's buckle is broken.
Maybe we would change dog's collar into dog collar[identifier instead of possessive] or revise the sentence:
The dog collar's buckle is broken.
The buckle on the dog's collar is broken.
But I don't see any need to change this one:
Cathy's mother's name is Sue.
In 10 pages of rules about possessives, my grammar book does not seem to address this question either way. So I put it to you, dear readers. Which way shall we go on these examples?
- The book's cover's paper was worn.
- The widow's son's car was totaled.
- My father's favorite cousin's visit was scheduled for May.
- Sam's dog's collar is broken.
- My best friend's car's tires are all flat.
- The software's manual's page's numbers were too small.
- The island's tallest tree's trunk was covered with moss.
As always, please post your answers below as comments.
Answers to the Challenge on Which versus That
The winners of this week's challenge, with all answers correct, are (in no particular order) Jay Herman, Kay Honaker, Trudy Dave, Gail A. Kelleher, Geri Moran, Christine Larson, Jenny Zoffuto, Julie Sharma, and Lorna McLellan.
These answers to which versus that are brought to you by Lorna McLellan and Kay Honaker:
- The east coast weather, which had been unseasonably cold, finally warmed up.
- A pile of snow lingered until recently on one side of the parking lot. That snow, which had been piled there by the snowplow back in March, finally melted.
- Joggers' shorts and tank tops that had been languishing in closets all winter finally made an appearance this weekend. (Alternative answer by Kay Honaker: Joggers' shorts and tank tops, which had been languishing in closets all winter, finally made an appearance this weekend.*)
- The spring bird that arrived back before all of the others was the white-throated sparrow.
- The tree that showed the earliest buds of spring was the maple.
- Our one and only cherry tree, which had been pruned carefully last fall, bloomed magnificently last week.
- The only bush that did not make it through the winter intact was the rhododendron in the exposed northwest corner of the yard.
*I had already decided number 3 could go either way, depending on whether joggers had used their shorts at the indoor track all winter, when I found Julie Sharma's perfect explanation in the next email message I opened:
"This could go either way: which, meaning the weather was so bad that no joggers' shorts or tank tops were worn all winter; that, meaning those shorts and tank tops that languished in closets--some might have been worn to the gym, for example, even in the winter."
Krista Allen made another interesting comment on number 2:
"My main reason for selecting "which" was to eliminate the double usage of "that." I'm not sure if that's the grammatically correct answer, but "That snow that had..." sounds clunky and desperately in need of a thesaurus."
You are right about the fact that the word that is redundant here--not because it is duplicated, but because the specific snow has already been precisely identified by the first use of that, so a second one is incorrect. But it is sometimes correct to use two thats in a row:
From Lincoln's Gettysburg address:
"We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live."
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