Kiss my 'S-es'.
November 23, 2005 6:51 PM   Subscribe

What's the deal with expressing ownership on names that end in 's'? If I had a buddy named 'Loveless' and wanted to talk about his pet dog, I would write "Loveless' pet dog". But I would clearly pronounce the exact same sentence like "Lovelesses pet dog". Doesn't that suck?
posted by fucker to Writing & Language (22 answers total)
 
I think the Strunk & White rule is to always write the apostrophe-ess. Thus: "Loveless's pet dog." If anyone criticizes you for that, the weight of authority is on your side.
posted by stopgap at 6:56 PM on November 23, 2005


I'm not so sure that part about "would clearly pronounce" is true.
posted by odinsdream at 7:08 PM on November 23, 2005


If you want to write "Loveless's dog," the AP Stylebook has your back too.
posted by awegz at 7:09 PM on November 23, 2005


stopgap is correct. Here are the Strunk & White rules (from memory, and possibly wrong):

- singular nouns ending in 's' — including names1 — get an apostrophe-'s' for the possessive: Loveless's dog, the house's price

- plural nouns ending in 's' get only an apostrophe: the companies' interests, our friends' disagreement

1. Exceptions are made for names considered 'ancient,' hence, Jesus' life, Euripides' plays. Why? The fuck if I know.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:10 PM on November 23, 2005


Interestingly, the exception to this rule (according to Strunk & White) is for ancient or biblical names. So it would be Jesus' crib, not Jesus's crib.
posted by justkevin at 7:13 PM on November 23, 2005


On posting, Ishmael got in the footnote.
posted by justkevin at 7:14 PM on November 23, 2005


1. Exceptions are made for names considered 'ancient,' hence, Jesus' life, Euripides' plays. Why? The fuck if I know.

Your Strunk and White sounds a lot more fun than mine. Is it a new edition?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2005


Being that this is the 21st Century, you should probably also know that Lynn Truss prefers "Loveless' dog," to "Loveless's dog," and that the choice between the two is a matter of style, not correctness.

Personally, I'm with Strunk & White, but then I'm an old fashioned kind of guy who doesn't mind consuming an extra "s" just for aesthetics.
posted by alms at 7:25 PM on November 23, 2005


Well as a Thomas ITRW, the thing about Thomas's being acceptable just doesn't match my life experience...

Or is Thomas, as an apostle, getting in on the "ancient" special rider?

But either way, "Simpsons's dog" or Dennis's book looks super fucking wrong...
posted by Meatbomb at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2005


Lynne Truss prefers "Loveless' dog," to "Loveless's dog"

Hmmm, I wonder if that's a British English vs. American English thing. Truss is British and explains that there are some "rules" that don't necessarily match up between the cultures. I'm American, so I'm not sure what the British take is on it. Just raising it as a possibility.
posted by awegz at 7:36 PM on November 23, 2005


According to the NYPL Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, the traditional school of thought for singular nouns that end in s is to place an 's at the end of all singular nouns, even those ending in an s, depending on how the word is pronounced.

If a new syllable is created when the possessive is formed, then an 's is added, e.g. the boss's decision; if the addition of another syllable would make the noun difficult to prounounce, only an apostrophe is added, e.g. Athens' temples.

The practice fast gaining acceptance is of the belief that adding 's to a word that already ends in s creates an excess of s's, hence the boss' memos, and the witness' statement.
posted by phoenixc at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2005


The practice fast gaining acceptance is of the belief that adding 's to a word that already ends in s creates an excess of s's, hence the boss' memos, and the witness' statement.

I was taught thus rule very firmly (at an English public school, but not a very good one).
posted by cillit bang at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2005


I choose possessive apostrophe placement based on pronunciation. If I would say LUV-les-ez SHOOZ, I would write Loveless’s shoes. If I would say CHARLZ SOKS, I would write Charles’ socks. Some copy editors’ house styles will do this differently. In this matter I depart from my usual authority, Bryan A. Garner’s excellent reference, Garner’s Modern American Usage, for my money the best available style guide.

Also, paging languagehat.
posted by cgc373 at 7:57 PM on November 23, 2005


I agree that it's 's for singular, ' only for plural, and I will add that one should not forget the royal "we": King Charles' lovely Queen Camilla.
posted by Dasein at 8:20 PM on November 23, 2005


I've heard both the Strunk and White rationale (from my high school English teacher) and the NYPL rationale (from a book editor). I imagine that, like the use of the serial comma, there is some leeway here, and that house style would take precedence (whether it be the AP house style or fucker's pub and bar conversational English house style).
posted by chrominance at 9:14 PM on November 23, 2005


I wonder if some of the people who write boss' memo do so because of overgeneralizing the plural rule to "anytime after an s", and not because of any serious grammatical or linguistic reason. I've always used boss's memo and find it creates less ambiguity.

I was actually thinking about this not two hours ago, in fact, when I saw a sign for "the Roberts' house" -- meaning belonging to a family with more than one "Roberts". But if one of them wrote a book, would it be "Roberts' book" or "Roberts's book"? The latter seems better, to me, because if Robert Smith and Robert Jones wrote a book, it would also be "the Roberts' book". Of course, context is important to determining the meaning of that, and of course no one refers to authors by first name, but even so, I think a consistent rule would make things much, much simpler for the reader -- and the writer.

On the ancient names thing: I'd always heard that one could drop the second S if there were really too many S's... and Jesus and Moses were frequent examples. I'd never heard that the age of those people mattered. (So Jesus' death from Judas's betrayal.)
posted by SuperNova at 9:53 PM on November 23, 2005


If it were a dog that belonged to an indivdual named Loveless you would say "Loveless' dog" but if it were a dog that belonged to a family named Loveless you would say "the Lovelesses' dog". They are pronounced the same but the "the" would convey the plural ownership.
posted by Carbolic at 9:53 PM on November 23, 2005


I go by the rule that the pronunciation is the guide to the writing. So it's the Boss's computer, but it's Descartes' book. As I see it, this cuts down on dissonance between the readers inner voice and what is written on the page. But hey, this is a style issue so the only hard rule is to be pick style and apply it consistently.
posted by oddman at 11:30 PM on November 23, 2005


There is no right or wrong answer here. Either go with a mandated style guide, or pick whichever style you like.
posted by teece at 12:37 AM on November 24, 2005


I would go with Loveless's dog. It is true that it is reasonably common in the UK for example to leave off the final s after the apostophe, but what's the point? Why introduce any ambiguity?
posted by chill at 3:08 AM on November 24, 2005


I'm with the dog.
posted by Rash at 1:17 PM on November 24, 2005


Lynn Truss prefers "Loveless' dog," to "Loveless's dog"

Who cares what Lynne Truss prefers? She doesn't know what the fuck she's talking about; she's a humorist who was commissioned to write a book on punctuation (god knows why) which became wildly popular (god knows why). You might as well cite Mickey Mouse as an authority.

What I always tell people is to write as they pronounce; if you say "Charlzez dog," write Charles's; if you say "Charlz dog," write Charles'. Simple and easy to remember, and you're not going to get into trouble. If you start trying to apply all those small-print exceptions and historical forms, you're going to get all confused and have people smirk at you.

Or, what cgc373 said (though I emphatically disagree about Garner: far and away the best style guide is Merriam-Webster's).
posted by languagehat at 7:49 PM on November 24, 2005


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