By Nick Potter

 

In this series we look at real-life examples of the most common mistakes in English by native Spanish lawyers.

These and lots more invaluable tips are compiled in two e-books/paperbacks, here: 50 English Tips for Spanish Professionals and More English Tips for Spanish Professionals.

 

’s

 

Don’t be possessive!”, English children are told when they don’t share. This author’s advice to you is the opposite: Be possessive! (Just not always…).

A “rule” of Plain English is to keep it short. Sentences like “the holes in the defence of Nottingham Forest” violate that rule. Better: the holes in Nottingham Forest’s defence or the holes in the Nottingham Forest defence.

Do not underestimate how significantly your drafting will be improved by writing “The Company’s board of directors” instead of “the Board of Directors of the Company” (let’s lose those unnecessary CAPITALS, too).

Compound nouns also help – “the Company’s board secretary”, for example, instead of the rather yawnsome “the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Company” (in the UK they are actually just called company secretaries).

The apostrophe followed by s (“’s”) is called Saxon’s genitive, a relic of old English and still used to indicate possession. In Spanish, it is equivalent to de, as in del, de la, de los or de las.

But can “of the” always be replaced with “’s”?

Question: Which ONE of A – H below is correct?

A According to Spanish takeover bids’ rules, the CNMV can increase the price of the Offer
B The bank never held the majority of the company’s stake and therefore could not control the company
C The Spanish Companies’ Act
D While this trend is helping to drive the companies’ global growth, it is also contributing to the decline in manufacturing employment at home
E KPI’s
F The purchaser belongs to the Santander’s group
G We have not been provided with any document related to any kind of employee’s benefits or incentive plans
H Payment’s calculation methodology

■ Before you read the answer, remember:

The apostrophe followed by s is used to indicate possession:

  • Julia’s computer
  • Spain’s deficit
  • The companies’ share prices

Note that after plurals ending in “s” we use the apostrophe only, with no additional “s”.

It is the natural translation of the Spanish del, de la, de los, de las but only where these are also used to express possession, i.e. one thing that belongs to another:

  • El consentimiento del deudor = the debtor’s consent
  • La carga de trabajo del juzgado = the court’s workload
  • El Consejo de Administración de la Empresa = the Company’s board

As I said, using “’s” is absolutely essential to writing good, clear English.

However, when “’s” is used, it is not always used correctly.

Often, de + the definite article translates as a compound noun (i.e. nouns made up of two or more words), not possession:

  • El proveedor de los servicios = the service provider (not “the services’ provider”)
  • El borrador del contrato = the draft agreement (not “the agreement’s draft”)

An English idiom is that possession is nine-tenths of the law, meaning that it is much easier to lay legal claim to ownership of something if you have it in your garage.

Possession is also 100% of the rule on using “’s” – if it isn’t possession, don’t use it.

■ So:

The mistake in A is to translate “la normativa de OPAs en España” in the possessive form. The “rules” do not belong to “takeover bids”. A compound noun is required (another can be used at the end of the sentence, too):

A According to Spanish takeover bids’ bid rules, the CNMV can increase the price of the Offer the Offer price

B contains a much more serious error, because it is not just grammatical. Using the possessive changes the meaning of the sentence. The author meant to refer to the shares in the Company – but ”the company’s stake” means la participación de la empresa i.e. its stake in another company. Again, a compound noun was needed.

B The bank never held the majority of the company’s stake a majority stake in the company and therefore could not control the company

In C, again, the law does not belong to companies. The possessive form is incorrect.

C The Spanish Companies’ Companies Act

D is the correct answer. The possessive is the correct form and no additional “s” is used with a plural ending in “s”.

D While this trend is helping to drive the companies’ global growth, it is also contributing to the decline in manufacturing employment at home [CORRECT]

E is an example of a common mistaken use of the possessive even by native speakers. KPIs are Key Performance Indicators – that “s” indicates a plural, not possession, so no apostrophe is used.

E KPI’s KPIs

Note: A similar error is referring to decades as “the 90’s”; the correct form is “the 90s” (no apostrophe).

In F, the possessive could be used if we took out the definite article, “the”. With “the”, a compound noun is required.

F The purchaser belongs to the Santander’s group Santander’s group

Or, more natural:

The purchaser belongs to the Santander group

G refers to types of benefits, i.e. a compound noun. Not those belonging to a particular employee.

G We have not been provided with any document related to any kind of employee’s employee benefits or incentive plans

H is a final example that shows that “de la” cannot always be translated as “’s”. The calculation method doesn’t belong to the payment; again, a compound noun is needed.

H Payment’s Payment calculation methodology