Home « Forum « Author Hangout

Forum: Author Hangout

Plural noun's possessives: A crew's lives

Crumbly Writer

Another odd-ball question, but how to you handle a plural noun's (like "crew", where the entire crew is referred to as a singular entity) possessive? Do you write "a crew's lives", "a crew's life" or "a crews's lives".

My first impulse is to use the singular for crew, while using the plural for "lives", but I can't argue for why that's the proper usage.

Ross, do you have any lengthy, technical grammar rules for us to chew on? I tried looking it up, but couldn't find anything specific, just vague generalities.

AmigaClone

@Crumbly Writer


My first impulse is to use the singular for crew, while using the plural for "lives", but I can't argue for why that's the proper usage.


I partially agree with you. The argument I would likely use at least until a better one comes up is that "crew's lives" is a shortened form of the phrase "the lives of the members of the crew."

On the other hand, I might be tempted to use "crew-members' lives" when talking about the lives of the members of a crew.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I wouldn't use the possessive. I'd write "the life of a crew."

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Ross, do you have ...?

Not readily at hand, but easily done.

I recommend these principles:
* Always decide how to show the possessive form based on the word that will receive the possessive suffix, e.g. United States is singular but it's possessive form is United States' because states is the plural form of state.
* Add only an apostrophe to words that both end in 's' and are the plural form of the word. For example, one species' and both species'. Note the singular and plural are both species, but punctuate the word as a plural whether the meaning is singular or not. If doing that results in an unacceptable ambiguity the solution is to rewrite the sentence using of to show the possessive.
* Add an apostrophe and 's' to all words not ending in 's', for example crew's; and words ending in 's' that are only singular, e.g. Ross's.

For what it's worth, this is the style recommended by CMOS 7.15.

There are some variations suggested by different style guides. I've seen it suggested that singular words ending with an S-sound but the letters 'z' or 'x' should be treated as if they ended in 's'. I've also seen it suggested that words ending in 's' only ever have an apostrophe added.

like "crew", where the entire crew is referred to as a singular entity

Your nagging doubt about that stems from a different point of grammar. I would write 'the crew is united' but 'the crew are divided'. 'Crew' is a collective noun. I use singular [or plural] verb forms to show the collection acting as a whole [or individually]. That is preferred style for BrE, but I understand it is considered optional for AmE.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I wouldn't use the possessive. I'd write "the life of a crew."

Grammatically, there is no reason to avoid the use of crew's.

However, I'd agree it may sometimes sound a bit off and I might then prefer of the crew.

It's too many 's' sounds, too close together, that seems to bother me. I dislike the sound of crew's lives, but I've no problem with either crew's food or crew's attitudes. Somehow, the longer following word, attitudes, seems to make a difference. But I can't explain why.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


or crew's attitudes.


I think Crumbly's question is: Would it be?

crew's attitudes or crew's attitude

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Here's Grammar Girl's take on collective nouns: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/collective-nouns

Basically, she says it depends.

Usually, which verb you use depends on two things: whether you consider the collective noun to be a single unit or to be made up of individuals, and whether you're American or British.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I think Crumbly's question is: Would it be?

crew's attitudes or crew's attitude

Yes. I didn't read his question properly.

The answer is that both are grammatically correct and the choice depends on context.
* 'crew's attitudes' shows the members of the crew are acting individually.
* 'crew's attitude' shows the crew is acting as a collective unit.

The considerations are the same as I described above for when either singular or plural verb forms may be used.

There is a general distinction between collective nouns, e.g. crew, and mass nouns, e.g. quantity.

I understand the rule is that mass nouns are always grammatically singular, but collective nouns are treated as grammatically singular or plural depending on whether the collection is acting as a unit or as individuals. I think the only variation to that is AmE is not as strict as BrE in regards to when collective nouns should be treated as being plural.

I won't research any references unless someone cites an example suggesting that is not so.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Usually, which verb you use depends on two things: whether you consider the collective noun to be a single unit or to be made up of individuals, and whether you're American or British.


Even though I'm American, I think of 'crew' as being a collective noun (i.e. it uses the singular case to refer to everyone aboard), thus I'd prefer "crew's lives", and adding the "of" just makes the entire sentence weaker, such as using "the survival of the crew".

The actual sentence, if anyone wants to pick the first-draft, uncorrected version, apart, is:

That demonstrates that, rather than being a risk to a crew's lives, allowing your AIs to act independently motivates them to try harder.


Actually, it would probably work just as well with:

That demonstrates that, rather than being a risk to the crew's survival, allowing your AIs to act independently motivates them to try harder

That sounds better, because it removes the competing singular "crew" and the contrasting plural "lives", without the awkward addition of an "of" phrasing.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Here's Grammar Girl's take on collective nouns: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/collective-nouns

... and she agrees completely with me. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

... and she agrees completely with me. :-)

Though it makes "crew's lives" especially problematic, because while the entire crew is at risk, only selected crew members are likely to actually perish. In that case, do you use the collective noun "crew's lives" (to represent the risk they all face) or the singular "crews' lives" (to represent those who'll pay the penalty)?

Logic would insist on the first, since the sentence is discussing the risk to everyone, but I doubt everyone would use that form. :(

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

"crews' lives"

That definitely means multiple collections, e.g. multiple ships, each with its own crew.

You are really overthinking this one.

I suggest: whenever you're in doubt about plural or singular for possessives of any collective or mass noun, test how the of-form sounds. You should spot any problem immediately once you convert your sentence into that form. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

do you use the collective noun "crew's lives" (to represent the risk they all face) or the singular "crews' lives" (to represent those who'll pay the penalty)?


First, the second one it talking about more than one crew (crew vs crews). I believe you are asking about "crew."

"The crew's lives" is probably what you want. "The crew's life" would be the crew as a whole, not the individuals making up the crew.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

"The crew's life" would be the crew as a whole, not the individuals making up the crew.

That makes no sense to me.

You could say something like, "The crew's life on board is all fun and games." That would mean one collective "life" shared by all the crew.

But if the meaning is 'life or death', it must be "the crew's lives" because everyone in the crew has a separate life. The crew does not share one life.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


The crew does not share one life.


You're thinking about individual members of the crew. In the "crew's life" version, it would be referring to them as a whole. Like "The crew's life existed on the whim of the captain."

As Grammar Girl said, it depends on how you're referring to the collective noun. In Crumbly's case, he most likely means "crew's lives."

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

"crews' lives"

That definitely means multiple collections, e.g. multiple ships, each with its own crew.

Okay, now we're really getting into problematic situation, as the story in question is actually discussing two separate ships, but is using 'crew' to refer to the 'combined' crew, shared between the two ships (i.e. they alternate daily/weekly assignments).

I understand the distinction between the two forms, and only used "crews' lives" (initially) to emphasis the confusion over the different forms, but as always, I like to keep my plots as confusing as possible. 'D

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

As Grammar Girl said, it depends on how you're referring to the collective noun. In Crumbly's case, he most likely means "crew's lives."

Precisely, but when using your test, it can get confusing pretty quickly.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

In Crumbly's case, he most likely means "crew's lives."

We're on the same page here.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Okay, now we're really getting into problematic situation, as the story in question is actually discussing two separate ships, but is using 'crew' to refer to the 'combined' crew, shared between the two ships (i.e. they alternate daily/weekly assignments).

You cannot think of collections as always singular or always plural. You must look at every situation and consider whether it is acting or being referred to as a single group or individual components.

The same groups could be considered differently by different people. For example, in your scenario, the admiral may think of the crews working different shifts as a single group, but the captains of each shift may think of them as separate units.

As Grammar Girl says at the start of her blog:

The most important thing to realize is that there are no hard and fast rules here

richardshagrin

This whole discussion is pretty crude.

Replies:   samuelmichaels
samuelmichaels

@richardshagrin

This whole discussion is pretty crude.

I've been sipping glasses of some fine crus while observing this discussion.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@samuelmichaels

I've been sipping glasses of some fine crus while observing this discussion.


While on a round-the-world cruise?

AJ

helmut_meukel

@Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde
"The crew's life" would be the crew as a whole, not the individuals making up the crew.

That makes no sense to me.


Why not?
Usually the crew of a large ship e.g. a carrier is never totally changed out, only individual members were added or leave. The life of the crew starts with the assignment of the initial members and ends when the ship goes out of service and the then crew members were posted elsewhere individually.

Compare the life of a crew to the life of a regiment, there are many similarities.

HM.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@helmut_meukel

You have quoted me out of context.

Your comments amount to "telling" me things I already know - and which were clarified in the remaining few sentences of my post.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Your comments amount to "telling" me things I already know - and which were clarified in the remaining few sentences of my post.

He specifically labeled it "@Switch", but he hit the 'reply' button simply so it would copy the quote.

But, to answer the point, it's generally assumed, in any shipwreck, that you'll have survivors. However, when dealing with spaceships, it's unlikely that anyone would survive long without an escape shuttle, and even then, they're not expected to travel between distant stars.

But more specifically, the point came up because I suggested my 'crew' consisted of multiple ships, which confused the entire argument, rending sensible answers unlikely. :(

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

He specifically labeled it "@Switch", but he hit the 'reply' button simply so it would copy the quote.

Actually, I had the "@Switch" in my post which was then included in his quote of me.

As written, I think his post was somewhat insulting towards me. However, based on his usual level of courtesy here, I will assume that was not his intention. :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Actually, I had the "@Switch" in my post which was then included in his quote of me.

Sorry, I didn't check your original message, assuming you'd missed the text attribution. It's not often someone includes the automatic attribution when they respond to someone.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, I didn't check ...

Hmm? Now I'm uncomfortable with my wording, 'I had the "@Switch" ...'

Let's ALL say the system's automatic attributions are convenient but sometimes cause communications mix-ups - and end this exchange here? :-)

robberhands

@Ross at Play

But if the meaning is 'life or death', it must be "the crew's lives" because everyone in the crew has a separate life. The crew does not share one life.

The crew's life on board was all fun and games. Then the ship sank and the crew drowned. Only the chief mate, Bruce Murray, survived. Lucky Bruce was on shore leave and visiting a grammar course for advanced learners.

Michael Loucks

@Crumbly Writer

which confused the entire argument, rending sensible answers unlikely. :(


I'd say that describes how the majority of flame-wars start. :-)

Ross at Play

@robberhands

The crew's life on board was all fun and games.

Surely that was only so when Bruce was away somewhere else attending another grammar course.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play

Surely that was only so when Bruce was away somewhere else attending another grammar course.

Actually, Bruce was a well-liked chap until the sinking of the ship. After that fateful disaster, he sadly became obsessive about grammar. His preachings that proper grammar not only enriches life but even is a necessary survival skill, annoyed many a listener.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Now I'm uncomfortable with my wording, 'I had the "@Switch" ...'


I knew right away that you highlighted the part of the post that had the "@Switch" in it. I thought it was appropriate because it gave all the information: That you were replying to something I said. The system works.

PrincelyGuy

Since there is no clear consensus, maybe being more verbose would help? Something along the line of

The lives of the crews aboard both ships are at risk...

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Let's ALL say the system's automatic attributions are convenient but sometimes cause communications mix-ups - and end this exchange here?

I think many of us have had the same problem, where a particular response generates a comment directed towards the original person. It's not an uncommon problem.

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

The crew's life on board was all fun and games. Then the ship sank and the crew drowned. Only the chief mate, Bruce Murray, survived. Lucky Bruce was on shore leave and visiting a grammar course for advanced learners.

Good one. I'll have to have that tattooed somewhere, just so I don't forget it.

Crumbly Writer

@PrincelyGuy

Since there is no clear consensus, maybe being more verbose would help? Something along the line of

The lives of the crews aboard both ships are at risk...

In the work in question (since I both started the thread and introduced the 'multiple crews' theory), the story makes a point of the two crews joining together as a single 'larger crew' occupying two ships.

I wouldn't use such a definition in any other use (such as two Queen Anne English vessels), but I was trying to explain how the usage complicated my own arguments.

PrincelyGuy

So that would mean the crews within the flotilla are at risk. I believe you can use flotilla for space going ships and not only water bound ships. The early onset Alzheimer's is kicking in again.

I am looking forward to seeing how you actually word this when you get around to posting the story.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PrincelyGuy

So that would mean the crews within the flotilla are at risk. I believe you can use flotilla for space going ships and not only water bound ships. The early onset Alzheimer's is kicking in again.

Flotilla (or fleet) implies a great many ships (two full squadrons or more for a flotilla), rather than just a couple traveling together for convenience sakes.

I am looking forward to seeing how you actually word this when you get around to posting the story.

The last version I quoted above (you may have to hunt for it) is the final* version, baring editing changes. 'D

As usual, most questions get answered in the first half-dozen to a dozen answers, after which we mostly just argue among ourselves about minor points that don't affect what shows up in print.

richardshagrin

Hairstyle: a crews cut, or maybe a crews crew cut. Or crew's cut or crew's crew cut, or crews' cut or crews' crew cut. One crew's cut, two or more crews' cut...

Ross at Play

@richardshagrin

or crew's crew cut

... or cruise crew's crew cut.

Trying saying that quickly to a woman without getting your face slapped!

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Ross at Play

... or cruise crew's crew cut.


Ross; go back to your initial answer. To the original question I agree that crew is a collective singular so crew's would be correct but here.....
Given that crew is a collective does every member have a crew cut or is it only one/some?
Your wording suggests that all members of the crew have crew cuts but is that what you mean or could someone else think otherwise? I suggest that quite different and clearer wording would be advisable

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@sejintenej

I agree that 'cut' in my post should be plural, but Richard made the original error.

I just inserted an extra word into a copy taken from his post.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

... but Richard made the original error.

Does that mean you made an unoriginal error?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

Does that mean you made an unoriginal error?

No, it means I have sinned.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

No, it means I have sinned.

Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@richardshagrin


Hairstyle: a crews cut, or maybe a crews crew cut. Or crew's cut or crew's crew cut, or crews' cut or crews' crew cut. One crew's cut, two or more crews' cut...


If the entire crew gets the exact same hair cut, at the exact same time every time they do, then yeah. 'D But I'd go with a crew's cut, since crew is a singular verb referring to everyone in the crew, and cut refers to the crew, not each individual member's haircut.

Replies:   sejintenej
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

No, it means I have sinned.


$5.00 for the syntax. :)

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

But I'd go with a crew's cut, since crew is a singular verb referring to everyone in the crew, and cut refers to the crew, not each individual member's haircut.

To me that is illogical because a crew (being a collective) does not have hair to be cut.

I've been searching mentally for an alternative but ... If the entire crew is being sacked - cut from the company's list of employees- then totally different wording would be employed

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

To me that is illogical because a crew (being a collective) does not have hair to be cut.

I wouldn't worry about it too much, I can't imagine a time when anyone would actually use that phrase in a story. It was an extreme example, meant to prove a point, but after stating the obvious, I weighed in on a largely meaningless example usage.

Back to Top