The difference between Shareholders’ meeting and Shareholders meeting

Do you add the apostrophe to Shareholders’ meeting? Or do you prefer Shareholders meeting, without the apostrophe?

Both are in fact correct. It may seem like a very small point, but misunderstanding the underlying grammar is the source of some serious mistakes.

The difference is this:

Shareholders’ meeting – the word Shareholders’ is a possessor. The phrase could be rewritten as meeting of Shareholders.

Shareholders meeting – the word Shareholders is an attributive noun: a noun that describes a main noun.

In this example there is no difference in meaning.

However, sometimes there is a difference in meaning. For example, company’s car and company car.

Company’s car – this is a car possessed by a company. It would probably be kept at the company’s premises and be used for company business.

Company car – here Company is an attributive noun which describes the type of car, i.e. one provided by a company for an employee as a benefit in addition to salary.

Another problem related to this issue is word order.

Have a look at this sentence:

WRONG
Our experience includes advising MaxCo in connection with the construction of the company new headquarters in Warsaw.

Here, “company” is an attributive noun which describes the main noun “headquarters”. “New” is an adjective. Attributive nouns must always be next to the main noun they describe. Adjectives must go before attributive nouns.

RIGHT
Our experience includes advising MaxCo in connection with the construction of the new company headquarters in Warsaw.

There is another way of correcting this sentence:

RIGHT
Our experience includes advising MaxCo in connection with the construction of the company’s new headquarters in Warsaw.

Here, I have made “company” a possessor. This changes the word order requirements. Adjectives describing the main noun must come after the possessor. If you put them before the possessor they describe the possessor:

WRONG
Our experience includes advising MaxCo in connection with the construction of the new company’s headquarters in Warsaw.

In this version, it is not the headquarters that are new, but the company.

Here’s another example of this mistake. The incorrect word order has totally changed the meaning:

WRONG
We have not been provided with security agreements concerning the other company’s points of sale.

RIGHT
We have not been provided with security agreements concerning the company’s other points of sale.

And here’s another example of the same mistake, which again has changed the meaning:

WRONG
We also made some editorial corrections and added the correct employee’s details.

RIGHT
We also made some editorial corrections and added the employee’s correct details.

Company names

Mistakes are commonly made with company names because they can be used either as possessors or attributive nouns. Word order must change depending on which form is used.

WRONG
We have been asked to review the amendments that the bank made to the standard Acme’s non-disclosure agreement.

RIGHT ­“Acme” as possessor
We have been asked to review the amendments that the bank made to Acme’s standard non-disclosure agreement.

RIGHT ­“Acme” as attributive noun
We have been asked to review the amendments that the bank made to the standard Acme non-disclosure agreement.

WRONG
The HSBC’s latest results were rather disappointing.

RIGHT ­– “HSBC” as possessor
HSBC’s latest results were rather disappointing.

RIGHT ­– “HSBC” as attributive noun
The latest HSBC results were rather disappointing.

Summary

The word order rule may be summarised as follows:

Possessor – adjectives – attributive nouns – main noun

Needless to say – there are exceptions!

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