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  • Writer's pictureRob Carty

New Year’s Resolution: Use More Possessives

Quick test. Which do you prefer: “New Year’s resolution” or “resolution of the new year”?

If you’re trying to lull someone to sleep, by all means use the latter. But if you’re aiming for crisp writing, free from verbal molasses like the word “of,” then use possessives whenever possible.

I’m not sure why we lawyers avoid possessives, but we sure do. For whatever it’s worth, I have a theory: We as a profession subconsciously avoid apostrophes because we’ve developed an irrational fear of contractions. So instead of saying “the court’s order,” we say “the order of the court” and move on. It’s so dull.

Admittedly, sometimes “of” is a better choice because you want the punchline to focus on the possessor instead of the possession. So we say that beauty is “in the eye of the beholder,” not “in the beholder’s eye.” But that’s not what we’re fighting here.

Pay attention the next time you read a brief. If you see someone use “of” to denote possession (and you will), reimagine it with a simple possessive. It will almost always sound better with the apostrophe.

I wish you the very best in 2020.

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