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Thread: Apostrophe + S for Names that End With the Letter S

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    Apostrophe + S for Names that End With the Letter S

    I do know about the rule where you add apostrophe plus "s" ('s) after a singular noun for possession, even if the name ends in the letter S. But do fiction editors have a problem with that?

    I have two characters in my book where this is involved. One is a supporting character named Thomas, whose name I can't change because I've gotten used to the name for this character. The other is one I refer to by last name, which ends with the letter S, and which I can change since he's a much more minor character.

    What do you think?

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    Quote Originally Posted by WannabeWriter View Post
    I do know about the rule where you add apostrophe plus "s" ('s) after a singular noun for possession, even if the name ends in the letter S. But do fiction editors have a problem with that?

    I have two characters in my book where this is involved. One is a supporting character named Thomas, whose name I can't change because I've gotten used to the name for this character. The other is one I refer to by last name, which ends with the letter S, and which I can change since he's a much more minor character.

    What do you think?

    I read something about that in Strunk & White's Elements of Style, but having never gotten past the submissions stage with the majority of my writing, I couldn't tell you whether or not an editor would have an issue.

    I'm sure someone else will come along, though, who will be more knowledgeable in this matter.


    --Sean

  3. #3
    Well begun is half done... Mumut's Avatar
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    I've always been told Thomas' as the possessive form of a singular noun ending with an 's'.

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    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    The Elements of Style is available online.

    One of the first index entries is Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's

    I have to say, I don't agree with the first 2 examples:

    Charles's friend
    Burns's poems
    the witch's malice
    ...because I wouldn't say "Charles's friend" [Charles-zays] -- I'd say "Charles' friend." Likewise, I wouldn't say "Burns's poems" [Burns-zays] I'd say "Burns' poems."

    But with "Thomas" I would say "Thomas's" [Thomas-zays] as in "Thomas's shoes" so that's how I'd write it, and that's how I decide these things, it's not an automatic decision based on the name ending with an "s".

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    Horror Man seun's Avatar
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    One of my characters was named Harris. I refused to write Harris's and stuck with Harris'. The first way just looks clumsy to me.

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    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seun View Post
    One of my characters was named Harris. I refused to write Harris's and stuck with Harris'. The first way just looks clumsy to me.
    Can't argue with that, tho' I'd say Harris's rifle so that's how I'd write it too (assuming the bloke has a rifle ).

    Quote Originally Posted by KTC View Post
    I do the s's. I have a character named Dubious Pickles. Double slam. It does look awkward...but hey, too bad for me. Dubious's it is.
    <nod of agreement>

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    Horror Man seun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
    Can't argue with that, tho' I'd say Harris's rifle so that's how I'd write it too (assuming the bloke has a rifle ).

    -Derek
    Harris was 13. I don't think he'd be allowed a rifle.

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    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seun View Post
    Harris was 13. I don't think he'd be allowed a rifle.
    Point well taken, sir! Harris, put that rifle down, you horrible little boy! Everyone, take note that Harris's rifle is no longer Harris's rifle. It's Thomas's rifle now. Tomorrow it'll be Charles' rifle because his sibilant "s" sounds softer than the others -- and that's the closest I can come to a reason why.

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    Never be completely back to normal. Mel's Avatar
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    I was taught (old school) you can go either way as long as you stay consistent.

    Jess's car broke down.
    Jess' car broke down.

    First one looks like overkill. But, to be consistent you need to decide one way for all the names in your story that end in s and double s.
    Melanie A.

  10. #10
    and then Steve stabbed a guy Expanding Ink's Avatar
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    I'm with Mel on this one - as long as you're consistent throughout the story, it doesn't really matter. That is, no one's going to notice. Once you start jumping around within the same work, though, the readers might (*gasp*) remember that they're reading, not actually hanging out with rifle-wielding 13-year-olds .

    That said, I tend to use different forms in different works. I usually choose based on what seems to go best with the MC's name.

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    Oh somebody give the definitive answer please! I have a character named Travis and have always thought it should be Travis' toys not Travis's toys. You guys are just confusing the crap out of me now.

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    Call him Trav.
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    OUTCAST is out now!!!! Toothpaste's Avatar
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    Uh . . . so we can just do whatever grammar rules we feel like so long as we are consistent? Honestly, that is so weird to me.

    The rule is: If the "s" at the end is singular, like Thomas, then you have to do "Thomas's". If the "s" is plural, so "cats", then you do "cats' ". It isn't about the fun that we can have with apostrophes. There are rules, and so what if you don't like how it looks, that's how it goes.

    It's like saying, "Eh, I prefer to put in commas instead of periods because they have cute little tails."

  14. #14
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    It's Harris's toys and Travis's tea and Charles's pot of basil.

    That's the correct way to do it. Seriously, folks, it's not hard to follow the rules.

    The only exception is names from antiquity--either Greek and Roman names, or names from other languages that have been Hellenized or Romanized.

    Charles's understanding of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was a bit lacking, so he borrowed Harris's copy of Irenaeus' treatise on the subject.

    The "but I don't say 'Charles's'" doesn't wash with me, but then I'm an American and we do say "Charles's".

    As an editor, if I see "Harris' toys" or "Charles' hat" I don't think the person is lacking in basic punctuation skills, though. I just quietly change it to the correct thing and move on.


    Also, the cocktails belonging to Nick and Nora Charles are "the Charleses' martinis".

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    Somewhere in the hills.... Appalachian Writer's Avatar
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    The Empress is correct. However, the cumbersome nature of pronunciation of such possessives, I believe, is what causes the confusion. Follow the Empress.
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    Relapsed insomniac :( ReneC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
    The Elements of Style is available online.

    One of the first index entries is Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's

    I have to say, I don't agree with the first 2 examples:


    ...because I wouldn't say "Charles's friend" [Charles-zays] -- I'd say "Charles' friend." Likewise, I wouldn't say "Burns's poems" [Burns-zays] I'd say "Burns' poems."

    But with "Thomas" I would say "Thomas's" [Thomas-zays] as in "Thomas's shoes" so that's how I'd write it, and that's how I decide these things, it's not an automatic decision based on the name ending with an "s".

    -Derek
    Writing isn't supposed to reflect how we speak. It's more efficient than speech (or at least it should be if done properly), being deliberate and usually very carefully considered.

    Then again, with the proliferation of blogs, forums such as these, chat programs and text messaging, many of the rules are being ignored in an effort to save time. I'll cling to my romantic notions that the printed word is sacred and the rules that govern it should be gospel, no matter the medium or circumstance, even though I have not yet fully mastered the rules myself.

    Everyone, please feel free to point out my hypocrisy. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity.

  17. #17
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KTC View Post
    I agree with you icecream...but man, your delivery. )-;
    I give my pet peeves room to roam!

    Also, I hope that dpaterso and seun know that I think they're both incredibly smart, talented people who are just mistaken on this one teeny-tiny issue.

  18. #18
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    Arrrgh!!! Damn it! This is how I had learned it in high school. (I like learned, sounds so redneck.) Where do these stupid wrong rules come from?

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    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Mental toss flycoon JimmyB27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
    The Elements of Style is available online.

    One of the first index entries is Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's

    I have to say, I don't agree with the first 2 examples:


    ...because I wouldn't say "Charles's friend" [Charles-zays] -- I'd say "Charles' friend." Likewise, I wouldn't say "Burns's poems" [Burns-zays] I'd say "Burns' poems."

    But with "Thomas" I would say "Thomas's" [Thomas-zays] as in "Thomas's shoes" so that's how I'd write it, and that's how I decide these things, it's not an automatic decision based on the name ending with an "s".

    -Derek
    That's funny, because I would say (and write) "Charles's friend." "Charles' friend." sounds to me like a guy named 'Charle' who has a friend (when it's said, not when it's written).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Appalachian Writer View Post
    The Empress is correct. However, the cumbersome nature of pronunciation of such possessives, I believe, is what causes the confusion. Follow the Empress.

    I'm not so sure of that. I was taught, in Grade School, in the United States, that putting an 's at the end of a name that ended with an s, was wrong in every case. There was no discussion as to the validity of spellings like charles's, etc. It was considered absolute truth that you do not put an 's at the end of a name that ends with an s.

    So I don't think, honestly, that it's a matter of pronunciation. It's what schools are teaching children that is the problem.

  22. #22
    Mental toss flycoon JimmyB27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by IceCreamEmpress View Post
    It's Harris's toys and Travis's tea and Charles's pot of basil.

    That's the correct way to do it. Seriously, folks, it's not hard to follow the rules.

    The only exception is names from antiquity--either Greek and Roman names, or names from other languages that have been Hellenized or Romanized.

    Charles's understanding of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was a bit lacking, so he borrowed Harris's copy of Irenaeus' treatise on the subject.

    The "but I don't say 'Charles's'" doesn't wash with me, but then I'm an American and we do say "Charles's".

    As an editor, if I see "Harris' toys" or "Charles' hat" I don't think the person is lacking in basic punctuation skills, though. I just quietly change it to the correct thing and move on.


    Also, the cocktails belonging to Nick and Nora Charles are "the Charleses' martinis".
    What! You mean I now have to research the origins of every name I use? Sheesh.
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  23. #23
    Mental toss flycoon JimmyB27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sean D. Schaffer View Post
    I'm not so sure of that. I was taught, in Grade School, in the United States, that putting an 's at the end of a name that ended with an s, was wrong in every case. There was no discussion as to the validity of spellings like charles's, etc. It was considered absolute truth that you do not put an 's at the end of a name that ends with an s.

    So I don't think, honestly, that it's a matter of pronunciation. It's what schools are teaching children that is the problem.
    It's not one of those US/UK divides, is it? Like how you guys can't spell 'grey', or 'colour'.
    Destiny Deceived - Internet serial story. Written by one of the best writers I have ever been.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JimmyB27 View Post
    It's not one of those US/UK divides, is it? Like how you guys can't spell 'grey', or 'colour'.

    I have no idea. Sorry about that.

    I remember being taught to spell the word 'judgement' with an 'e' in the middle early on, then getting the same spelling marked wrong in a spelling assignment in, I think, the Fifth Grade. I also was taught that any word that ended with a 'p' in present tense had an extra 'p' in past tense. It's not that way anymore, so with words like 'worship', the way I was taught to spell it in past tense was 'worshipped', not 'worshiped.' Yet the way I was taught is not considered right.

    This has always been a point of frustration for me, because in Grade School and High School, these things were taught as absolute fact, instead of being discussed. Here I was, writing things the way I had been taught early on as absolute fact, and getting those things wrong because those things were absolute nonsense in later years.



    --Sean

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    KoalaKoalaKoala! RedScylla's Avatar
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    I despise s's. Despise, you hear me?

    It just seems like wasted ink, and perhaps, secretly I still remember my childhood Bible, with Jesus' words in red.
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