Lessons in Our Language I
Avoid unpleasant repetitions of 's or of.
Brown and Smith, the painters' store,
NOT, The store of Brown and Smith, the painters;
NOR, Brown and Smith's, the painters', store.
The sign of possession is appended only to the latter of two nouns standing together (or in apposition, as it is called), one to explain the other.
William and Mary's reign. But one reign is referred to, William and Mary having reigned jointly. Both proper nouns denoting possession, but the latter alone takes 's.
The rose's and the violet's odor are quite different. Two odors are referred to, the rose and the violet having each it's own; and each noun denoting possession takes 's.
Now this may seem obvious to some of us, or at least it's something we look at and go, "Oh, of course!" when we see it. But it can be confusing if you think too hard about it. For instance, here is a sentence from the exercises. Correct the errors:
Have you ever seen Henry's son's wife's father?
Well, since you can't use "of" too much, the only real alternative here is to change a word or two.
Have you seen the father-in-law of Henry's son?
Ugh, that's inelegant. Better to say,
Have you seen Henry's son's father-in-law?
It only gets rid of one 's, but it may be enough. What do you think?
(Taken from Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, 1882. Available on CD at Lady's Maid Books.)