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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Apostrophes: Part IV

 

In last week's grammar tip, we discussed the use of apostrophes in singular words that end in s. If you missed the last tip, you can review it here. Dealing with possessives of proper nouns that end in s (like last names) is a little trickier because the major style guides all differ significantly on this. Since the experts don't agree on this topic, I'll present you with several different ways of handling it, and then you can choose for yourself. Pull up a seat, and let's get down to the nitty-gritty!

Generally speaking, The Chicago Manual of Style recommends adding an apostrophe plus the letter s to the possessive form of most proper nouns that end in s, regardless of pronunciation.

On the other hand, The Gregg Reference Manual (10th edition) suggests using pronunciation as a guide. If an extra syllable is added when a possessive is pronounced, an apostrophe plus s is used. If an extra syllable is not added, only an apostrophe is needed.

The Associated Press Stylebook, which is widely used in the journalism field, recommends omitting the extra s from all proper nouns that already end in s, regardless of pronunciation.

As if this wasn't enough information to contemplate, I came across another recommendation that was based solely on pronunciation, but with a different twist. If the proper name ends with a z sound, add only an apostrophe; if it ends in an s sound, add an apostrophe plus s.¹ This method actually produces a similar result to The Gregg Reference Manual's rule which is based on the number of syllables.

Now for some examples!
Note how the following possessives differ depending on the style guide.

The Chicago Manual of Style:
Add apostrophe +s to all names ending in s.

Mr. Hastings's car

Miss Jennings's ring

Mrs. Otis's cookies

Miss Thomas's purse

Mrs. Dickens's house

Mr. Harris's desk


The Gregg Reference Manual:
Add apostrophe +s if there is an extra syllable.

Mr. Hastings' car

Miss Jennings' ring

Mrs. Otis's cookies

Miss Thomas's purse

Mrs. Dickens' house

Mr. Harris's desk


The Associated Press Stylebook:
No s is required if the name ends in s.

Mr. Hastings' car

Miss Jennings' ring

Mrs. Otis' cookies

Miss Thomas' purse

Mrs. Dickens' house

Mr. Harris' desk


Pronunciation-based:
Add apostrophe +s for s sounds; no s for z sounds.

Mr. Hastings' car

Miss Jennings' ring

Mrs. Otis's cookies

Miss Thomas's purse

Mrs. Dickens' house

Mr. Harris's desk


Personally, I prefer the pronunciation-based guidelines, so The Gregg Reference Manual's recommendation makes the most sense to me. The important thing is to choose a style that you're comfortable with, and one that you can remember.

So, how would you choose to write this possessive:
the dog of Mrs. Chambers
?

Do you prefer Mrs. Chambers' dog  OR  Mrs. Chambers's dog?

Cast your vote by sending me an email. I'd love to hear your preferences or pet peeves!

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

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Sources:

1. Margolis, Nancy H. "North Carolina State University's Online Writing Lab."
2. University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed.  
        (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 281-284.
3. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th ed.
        (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005), 183-185.
4. Sweeney, Michael S. "Guide to AP Style."
        http://www.usu.edu/journalism/faculty/sweeney/resources/ap.htm.