Like possessives, double possessives are used to provide specific information about the relationship between a possessor and a possessed object. Double possessives, also known as ‘double genitives’ or double possessive constructions, occur when two possessive elements are used together to show ownership or association with an object or concept. A ‘genitive’ is a grammatical case or construction in language that typically indicates possession or association between nouns; it is used to show that one noun belongs to or is related to another noun.

A typical possessive in English grammar simply indicates ownership or association between one noun and another, such as ‘John’s car’. A double possessive can cause confusion because it involves an additional noun and, therefore, two successive possessive elements or markers. A ‘possessive marker’ is a word or unit of punctuation that is used to show that something belongs to someone or something else such as the addition of an apostrophe and an -s to the noun, or the use of the word ‘of’, or sometimes the word ‘has’.

While the use of a double possessive is not always grammatically incorrect, it is usually an unnecessary and unappealing construction when two identical possessive markers are used, and this should be avoided where possible.

two identical birds

The structure of a double possessive

The structure of a double possessive typically consists of a noun followed by a possessive marker, which is followed by another noun that is followed by another possessive marker.
The general structure of a double possessive is as follows:

  • John’s boss’s computer is malfunctioning.
  • The book of the sister of my cousin is interesting.
  • My teacher’s friend’s husband has gone missing.
  • John has an aunt who has a car that has a faulty engine.
  • The house of the neighbour of my aunt is for sale.

While none of these structures is incorrect, the sentence formation is unappealing because each example uses an identical possessive marker twice or three times successively.

For more detail on forming possessives in English grammar, please consult this post.

Incorrect use of a double negative

  • That car of Jane’s is red.
  • The book of John’s is on the table.
  • The computer of John’s boss’s is malfunctioning.

The above examples are all incorrect. In the first and second, there are two possessive indicators where one is sufficient; in the third, there are three possessive markers where two would suffice. Below are the corrected sentences:

  • Jane’s car is red.
  • John’s book is on the table.
  • The computer of John’s boss is malfunctioning.

The following examples are also incorrect:

  • The book of John’s is on the table.
  • The house of my parents’ is large.
  • The car of my friend’s was stolen.

Above, the possessive is expressed twice each time where once would suffice; two possessive markers are used for one instance of possession. The following are their correct presentations:

  • John’s book is on the table.
  • My parents’ house is large.
  • My friend’s car was stolen.

Appropriate use of a double negative

A double negative becomes necessary, that is two possessive markers, where there are two instances of possession in close succession. Frequently, the use of ‘of’ is unnecessary and the resulting sentences appear awkward, ambiguous or overly complex, as demonstrated in the examples above.

However, the following examples dealing with multiple possessors demonstrate a need for clarity:

  • John’s boss’s computer is malfunctioning.
  • The book of the sister of my cousin is interesting.
  • My teacher’s friend’s husband has gone missing.
  • The house of the neighbour of my aunt is for sale.
  • The girl’s dog’s bone’s smell is terrible.

In these examples, while the possessive is correctly indicated, the structure is unappealing; in particular, the final example has three successive possessives. Such a structure would be fine in colloquial use but, academically or formally written, the following use of the double possessive would be an improvement:

  • The computer of John’s boss is malfunctioning.
  • My cousin’s sister has an interesting book.
  • The husband of my teacher’s friend has gone missing.
  • The house of my aunt’s neighbour is for sale.
  • The bone of the girl’s dog has a terrible smell.

Both ‘of’ and -s are possessive indicators, and by using one of each there is clarity. In the final example, the alternative possessive marker of the word ‘has’ has been introduced, this has also been exemplified as an alternative possessive marker in the second example.


A double possessive is sometimes a necessary structure when two instances of possession need to be mentioned successively. A double possessive can be indicated by two instances of the word ‘of’, two instances of an apostrophe with an -s, or one use of the word ‘of’ and one use of an apostrophe with an -s. Occasionally, the word ‘has’ can be used to mark a possessive or to clarify an untidy possessive sentence.

When the possessive is correctly indicated, it is acceptable to use two identical possessive markers in informal writing, an email, a magazine, a newspaper or a fiction novel. However, a double possessive should be avoided in academic or formal writing, and if a double possessive is essential, it should be formed using diverse possessive marker, for clarity in presentation, rather than identical markers.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please do add them below.


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  1. In my everyday conversations, I tend to stick with the straightforward “‘s” form for possessives, but I’ve come to appreciate the utility of the double possessive marker, especially when working in a professional setting where it can add a level of precision and clarity that the standard “‘s” construction sometimes lacks, as I experienced in my previous job managing various teams’ projects.

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