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Thread: The proper use of 's' in posessive nouns

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    A Broken Keeper GHWard's Avatar
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    The proper use of 's' in posessive nouns

    ... just want to clear this up ... when do we use apostrophe 's' with nouns ending with s? Example Mother Clovis and her car. Is it Clovis' car or Clovis's car? I've heard authors vehemently argue about this on both sides . I've even seen examples using the name Jesus in connection to his disciples - is it Jesus's disciples or... ??? What is the absolute proper format?

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    Trigger-Happy Pyromaniac Writer BRDurkin's Avatar
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    In my experience, it can go either way. I believe this is one of those rules that is actually in transition due to common usage today. It used to be, for example, Jesus'. But more and more, it's becoming Jesus's. I still use the old way, but I've been told that if an editor wants it a different way, it's no big deal to go through and change it.

    My personal recommendation would be to stick with the old way, but that's just my opinion. I haven't seen anything definitive.
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    Le sigh. Tedium's Avatar
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    Strunk and White advocated for the 's. I learned s', so that looks right to my eyeballs.

    From the Chicago Manual of Style Online:
    Q. When indicating possession of a word that ends in s, is it correct to repeat the s after using an apostrophe? For example, which is correct: “Dickens’ novel” or “Dickens’s novel”?

    A. Either is correct, though we prefer the latter. Please consult 7.15–18 for a full discussion of the rules for forming the possessive of proper nouns. For a discussion of the alternative practice of simply adding an apostrophe to form the possessive of proper nouns ending in s, see paragraph 7.21.
    Really, I don't think you can go wrong either way. If a publication wants it a certain way to fit their style guide, they will let you know. It's not a big deal, really. Not like you are changing the meaning of words, or anything.

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    The Surreal Thing AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    My understanding is that this has changed in the last 30 years. It used to be that nouns ending in S had their possessives formed by just the apostrophe, but now nearly all of them are treated just like all other nouns.

    Formerly: Jess' doctor; Clovis' student; James' truck.
    Current: Jess's doctor; Clovis's student; James's truck.

    The only exceptions are Popes, Jesus, and mythological gods.

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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    My understanding is that this has changed in the last 30 years. It used to be that nouns ending in S had their possessives formed by just the apostrophe, but now nearly all of them are treated just like all other nouns.

    Formerly: Jess' doctor; Clovis' student; James' truck.
    Current: Jess's doctor; Clovis's student; James's truck.

    The only exceptions are Popes, Jesus, and mythological gods.

    Maryn, knowing house style will catch any goofs she makes
    That's what I was taught too, which is what I still do. Even if Word tells me it's wrong. Word's not as smart as it thinks it is in many spelling matters, after all.
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    ...it's anything but. AW Moderator amergina's Avatar
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    As others have said, it can go either way. CMoS like s's over s' so that's what I use. It's also what my publisher used, so it worked out.

    But don't sweat it. It's not something anyone will reject you over, and if the house style calls for it to be opposite of what you have, then change it.
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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    As long as you don't pluralize with 's, you're good.
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    Seashell Seller Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    I'm old school. I use " s' ".
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    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I like s's. I think s' is more for plural possessives.

    Lucas's car.
    My parents' car.

    That's what seems right to me.

  10. #10
    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    If I would speak the word with the extra syllable, then I use s's. If not, then I just use s'.

    Lucas's car. (Lucasus)
    My parents' car. (parents)

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    Quote Originally Posted by BRDurkin View Post
    In my experience, it can go either way. I believe this is one of those rules that is actually in transition due to common usage today.
    I think BR just nailed the whole argument down with this statement. It is in transition due to common usage.

    First, the "rule" was, if it ends in "s" place the apostrophe AFTER the "s" to indicate possessive. THEN it was, if it ends in a vowel and an "s" add the apostrophe after the "s" but, if it ends in a consonant and an "s" add an apostrophe AND "s" at the end. Lately, we have seen the further metamorphosis of the apostrophe "s" conundrum in that many now use the apostrophe "s" following ALL "s" ending words.

    Much of this (and I apologize if I offend anyone) is due to poor education starting with the teachers who now "educate" the schoolchildren. Certain grammatical standards are flexing and adjusting based on the common denominator. The teachers of today's children learned a slightly different standard of grammar and language from their teachers who, likewise, learned things a bit differently from their predecessors. So it is not unusual that what you learned in school about the proper way usage of the poor s and it's friend the apostrophe might be different from what someone else learned.

    Now, having gotten everone's hackles up, let me say that I believe language is a living thing. It changes as the society that uses it changes. It adjusts according to the demands of the sulture in which it is used.

    Consider that Olde English was based in German and in no way resembled even Middle English, much less the Modern English we know today. In fact, what is called English is America is referred to as American in Great Britain because it is not the same language as that used in Great Britain (England). In America, a bonnet is what ladies used to wear on their heads a century or so ago. But, in England, it is where you find the motor of your car. A boot is what an American would put on their foot to keep tootsies out of rain, mud, or snow. In England, it's where you keep the spare tire for your car.

    English, like any other living thing, is constantly changing. So, if you see that 's as being used one way while someone else argues for a different construct, it's okay. It's just the ever-changing world in action. Go with it.
    Last edited by TheWordsmith; 11-20-2012 at 10:33 PM.

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    I was taught to use s' and still do. I tend to think if it's a word such as "Jess's" then it doesn't look correct to have three of the same letter together like that.
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    There are so many exceptions that no rule makes sense. And if you use the s, and the next word begins with s, it looks like a snake hissing.

    I leave the s off, and no editor anywhere has ever changed it.

  14. #14
    Obsessive Plotting Disorder Parataxis's Avatar
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    OKAY.

    So my name ends with the letter "s". I was taught that unless the word has already been pluralized by adding an s, " 's " is always used to make it possessive. This reflects the fact that we pronounce an extra syllable when doing it is speech. So it's Jess's but foxes'. And it's fishes' & birds' but mice's & men's. So I believe this was and in the commonly accepted rule during my lifetime. (I also tend to think it makes the most since as it just mimics how the speech sounds--but that's probably just me.)
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parataxis View Post
    OKAY.

    So my name ends with the letter "s". I was taught that unless the word has already been pluralized by adding an s, " 's " is always used to make it possessive. This reflects the fact that we pronounce an extra syllable when doing it is speech. So it's Jess's but foxes'. And it's fishes' & birds' but mice's & men's. So I believe this was and in the commonly accepted rule during my lifetime. (I also tend to think it makes the most since as it just mimics how the speech sounds--but that's probably just me.)
    Thirty-five years ago, the university I attended said to drop the S, both in English classes, and in Journalism. Contrary to what most think, dropping the S is not a recent development. It's always been part of the discussion.

    I drop it because there are so many exceptions, and most of those exceptions also mimic how speech sounds.

    And readers pronounce it the same way, no matter which rule you follow, so I'll go with saving space, and with how it appears on the page.

    There is no commonly accepted rule, there are two commonly accepted rules. One is just as right as the other.

  16. #16
    A Broken Keeper GHWard's Avatar
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    I thank you all for your suggestions.

  17. #17
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    I leave the extra s off. I am kind of old school too.
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