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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Apostrophes: Part III

In the last grammar tip, we discussed the basic rules for using apostrophes. If you missed the last tip, you can review it here. You'll recall that I purposefully skipped over a certain group of words in the last tip: singular words that end in s. There are actually a couple of different ways to handle this group of possessives, so we'll discuss both methods.

The major style guides seem to agree that an apostrophe plus the letter s should be added to most singular nouns that end with s.

Examples:
●  the boss's car
●  the business's financial statement
●  the witness's oath

You may remember learning in school that singular nouns ending in s only require an apostrophe at the end, without an extra s. If so, don't go blaming your English teacher quite yet! According to The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition), this guideline was previously quite common, but it fell out of favor because it didn't account for pronunciation. However, this method is still acceptable if the writer prefers it.¹ Here are a few examples; you'll notice that the possessives are pronounced differently than they are written.

Examples:
●  the boss' car
●  the business' financial statement
●  the witness' oath.

Some writers hate that boss' doesn't account for the extra syllable when it's pronounced; other writers cringe at the sight of three s's in a row, like in boss's. There's really no perfect solution, so choose the one that bothers you the least!

Things become a bit more complicated when you're dealing with possessives of proper nouns that end in s, especially last names. The major style guides all differ significantly on this. We'll wait until next week to discuss this so your brain doesn't go into overdrive before the weekend starts!

To read the next grammar tip in the apostrophes series, click here.

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1. University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed.  
        (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 281-282.