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In daily writing, I normally use the possessive form as "shareholders' wealth" or "firms' cash holding", but it seems that in research, I did not see people use the " ' " for possession if the subject is not human beings, similar to how my English teacher guided me, except this paper:

Our identification relies on the difference-in-differences estimation based on a staggered passage of leniency laws in 63 countries around the world from 1990 to 2012. In addition to exploiting a leniency law passage in the firm’s country, we look at the leniency law passages in the main export markets of the firm’s industry, and leniency law passages in the firm’s subsidiary locations, and find consistent results.

Would "wealth of shareholders" or "cash holding of firms" be suitable in academic paper writing or I can stick with "shareholders' wealth" or "firms' cash holding"?

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This isn't an academic issue, but rather a general English grammar issue. The apostrophe is placed after the s when we are talking about plural entities, and before the s when talking about a singular, to distinguish between the two cases.

So "... the firm's cash holdings..." would refer to the holdings of an individual firm, while "... the firms' cash holdings..." would refer to the holdings of multiple firms. You can even see this in the article you link, where the paragraph you quote is referring to an individual firm and so uses "firm's", while in numerous places elsewhere the authors use the "firms' " form when talking about multiple entities.

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  • sorry if my explanation confusing you, what I concern here is whether I should use " of " or apostrophe when talking about possession in academic papers.
    – Louise
    Aug 16 at 10:24
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    Ah, ok, the switch between the singular/plural in the parts of the question threw me off. There may be times where 'of' or other similar phrasings may be easier to read or used to place emphasis on different parts of the sentence, but here's no general academic rule against using apostrophes to denote possession in academic writing (at least in any area I've worked in). Aug 16 at 11:00
  • Thanks a heap, @Stephen Mc Mahon
    – Louise
    Aug 16 at 11:01
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The term for apostrophe constructions like this is the "Saxon genitive."

In my opinion, it is less a question of correctness and more one of whether the construction is perceived as "awkward," especially to the ear of a native speaker. In general, your English teacher's guidance will lead you to the right choice, but there will always be the occasional exception. The example you posted is a good exception. Ordinarily, I would find "firms' industry" awkward, but in this case it is much more concise than using the X of Y construction. Change the phrases to "industry of the firms" (etc.) and you will find the text much longer and wordy ( "a mouthful" is a common idiom for text like that).

You may find this resource helpful: https://www.wallstreetenglish.com/exercises/english-possessives-the-saxon-genitive

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