Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feeling possessive? Another free tip

Here's a quick (and nearly infallible) way to tell whether a preposed sports noun modifying another sports noun ought to be possessive. We seem to have spent the summer deciding this one by coin toss, and it'd be nice to be consistent.

When you're confronted with a sentence like "We're very happy to see Pete move up," Mavericks' manager Jim Gentile said, simply replace the team name with one that doesn't end in "s." This is often called the NBA test, after the rash of stupid noncount team names that came into the NBA (like Heat and Magic) with expansion in the late '80s. If you wouldn't make Heat possessive, don't make Mavericks -- or Cardinals, or Tigers, or anybody -- possessive:

* "We're very happy to see Pete move up," Heat's manager Jim Gentile said.
"We're very happy to see Pete move up," Heat manager Jim Gentile said.
"We're very happy to see Pete move up," the Heat's manager, Jim Gentile, said.

The usage marked with the asterisk is the incorrect one.

The wrong usage can make a real difference in meaning too:

* The diminutive St. Louis Cardinals' leadoff hitter ... (1B Monday)
The St. Louis Cardinals' diminutive, high-energy shortstop ... (1B Tuesday)

In the first example, "diminutive" modifies "Cardinals"; in the second, it modifies "shortstop." (The first would have been correct, but pretty clumsy, if the apostrophe had been removed.)

And, of course, "plural possessive" means exactly that: PLURAL possessive. It's "the Tigers' six home games," not "the Tiger's six home games" (8A Tuesday).


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