The Curious Listener: Executive Grammar Rules

Dec 13, 2013
Originally published on December 18, 2013 12:20 pm

NPR recently produced a number of stories to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

We received comments from many of you, including some personal remembrances of that historic moment, theories about what happened on that landmark day in 1963 and compliments (as well as critiques) of our special coverage.

For one Curious Listener, "Kennedy's Assassination" raised a different sort of question – is that widely-used phrase grammatically correct?

From Sallie, in New Jersey:

I thoroughly enjoyed all of your stories about President Kennedy and the historical significance of this past week. I was, however, curious about some of the reporting you did on "Kennedy's assassination." I was always taught – and have in turn taught – that one should never use the possessive case of a noun to indicate the object of an action. One should use an "of" phrase instead. Is it then correct to say "the assassination of Kennedy"? I know that grammar is fluid, and perhaps there has been a change of which I am unaware. Again, I did enjoy the stories. I was just curious.

Sallie, we must say that we applaud your love of impeccable grammar! We can see all of the English majors out there smiling, too.

Here's what we found:

Dear Sallie,

Thank you for contacting NPR.

We appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns. We reached out to several experienced copy editors to double-check this and they all agreed that "Kennedy's assassination" is an acceptable usage. It is possible that a grammar rule similar to what you are describing may have been taught in the past by some, however it does not appear to be a widely favored or observed convention. We also took a look at coverage of the recent Kennedy assassination anniversary by other major news organizations and all of them appear to have used the phrase "Kennedy's assassination" in their reporting.

Thank you for listening to NPR, and for your continued support of public broadcasting.

NPR Audience and Community Relations

For added fun, here are a few words from the man himself:

For all the grammar enthusiasts reading this, here's an excellent piece about the Oxford Comma from NPR's Monkey See blog by Linda Holmes. Have a funny story about grammar gone wrong? Leave us a comment below.

Send your questions about the inner workings of NPR, something you heard during a program, or anything else NPR-related to NPR Services. Your question and the answer might even end up on the This is NPR blog.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit