Riche's or Rich's?
November 12, 2006 9:34 AM   Subscribe

How do you pronounce the possessive "s" following something ending in s or ch?

For example, Rich's car, James's yard, etc. Do you say Riche's car? Jamese's yard? or Rich's car, and James's yard, with no connective e sound? Are there authorities as to which pronunciation is correct?
posted by subtle-t to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's impossible to say "Rich-s" car. It is "Rich-es" car.
Similarly, "Jame-ses" The exceptions are the really awkward ones that already end in the "es" sound, and can be pronounced without the extra "-es" or reworded for the sake of Jesus :^)
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: I think my problem is that I don't think it's impossible to say "Rich-s" car. You can do if if you basically swallow up the connective e between the ch and s.
posted by subtle-t at 10:01 AM on November 12, 2006


I've never met anyone who pronounced it like "Rich-s" car. It's "Rich-is" and "James-is."
posted by ludwig_van at 10:09 AM on November 12, 2006


Subtle, what's your native tongue?
posted by Deathalicious at 10:13 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: Mandarin, but I speak English like a native USAsian since I've been here since 1992.
posted by subtle-t at 10:14 AM on November 12, 2006


Which car is Rich scar?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:20 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: Clever, but you can distinguish Rich's car and Rich scar since car is a hard c (or k) sound and the c in scar is soft, like a g.
posted by subtle-t at 10:23 AM on November 12, 2006


I can say richs but it sounds weird to my ear. I'm Canadian born and of European descent.
posted by substrate at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2006


Now, what about James. Can't you also, correctly, say "James' car" -pronounced "James car", not "James-IZ car"??
posted by tristeza at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2006


you can distinguish Rich's car and Rich scar since car is a hard c (or k) sound and the c in scar is soft, like a g.

I don't think so.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: I think it's the simple difference between s-Kuh-ar and s-Guh-ar, and I think the two are distinct from each other.
posted by subtle-t at 10:40 AM on November 12, 2006


I like to think I pronounce it as it's written.

E.g.,

James' car is "jamez car". James' scar is "james scar".

Rich's car is "richiz car", and Rich's scar is "richiz scar".
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2006


Now, what about James. Can't you also, correctly, say "James' car" -pronounced "James car", not "James-IZ car"??

wikipedia

I think it's the simple difference between s-Kuh-ar and s-Guh-ar, and I think the two are distinct from each other.

Well I pronounce the c sound the same way in both words, and the pronunciation guides at dictionary.com and m-w.com also indicate that the consonant is the same.

Anyway, it doesn't matter, because it's definitely non-standard to add an s for a possessive without pronouncing a vowel sound before it.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2006


Rich-es car
James-es car
Native USian; these pronunciations are the only way to go, to my ear.

The really difficult case is a possessive of a family whose surname already ends with s. Consider:
The Joneses are our neighbors. They have a car. The Joneses' car is red.

I pronounce that as "Joneses", omitting the final "s" that would normally be added by the possessive. Notice that the spelling of the word reflects this, although it's optional to add the "s" after the apostrophe in spelling, and I think it's okay to add it on speaking too. If you add it, you'd pronounce it "Joneses-es car". To my ear that's permissible but a mouthful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2006


Rih-chezz. Jaim-zezz.

I've never heard of a soft-c sound.
posted by rhizome at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2006


Sometimes the spelling would be shortened even more.... "The Jones' car is red." I think that's ok but not required.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2006


It's "Rich-es car" and "James-es" car, as wgp says.

As a native English speaker, I cannot pronounce the alternative, (nor can I distinguish between the 'c' sounds in 'car' and 'scar').

I think Thenewwazoo should look into the idea of writing "James's car", not "James' car", and pronouncing it accordingly.
posted by nowonmai at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2006


Lobster: The Joneses might be your neighbors, but it's the Jones' car that is red. Now, if there were several Joneses and they all had red cars, then you could say the Joneses' cars are red, but I think most people would avoid it and say "Man, the Joneses love their red cars, eh?"
posted by rhizome at 10:56 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: Can people really not distinguish the C in car and scar? To my ears, (and to be technical about it), Car starts with a voiceless velar plosive and Scar contains a voiced velar plosive. Make sure to check the sound samples.
posted by subtle-t at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2006


Best answer: The ch in "rich" is not a simple phoneme, it's what is called an affricate. That is, it's a stop (t) leading into a fricative (sh).

You can shift your point of articulation forward and say "tsh-s" but it's a pretty complicated consonant cluster, which is difficult both to say, and to hear (that is it's easy to not notice the shift at the end). As a result most people add an extra vowel in there to break it up. This is written down when you pluralize ("riches"), but it's pronounced just the same with a possessive ("Rich's").

rhizome: I would absolutely say "the Joneses' car is red" just as I would say their lawn is better maintained than mine.
posted by aubilenon at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2006


Response by poster: As a followup, does the pronunciation change at all if the apostrophe s is short for "is." That is, if Rich's meant Rich is? Is it still pronounced Riches?
posted by subtle-t at 11:21 AM on November 12, 2006


I was all set to disagree with you about car and scar, subtle-t, but after listening to myself, you're completely right, the c sound comes from different parts of my mouth. Fascinating, and thanks for pointing it out!
posted by stray at 11:30 AM on November 12, 2006


Best answer: Mandarin, but I speak English like a native USAsian

Well, actually you don't, if you're saying /ričs/, which is impossible in English (I don't mean it's impossible for an English-speaker to say—anybody can say anything that can be said, with enough practise—I mean that it's not a possible combination in the English language). Rich's car is /ri|čəz|kar/ and James's yard is /džeim|zəz|yard/; there's no two ways about it. (I've added the vertical line to show the syllable boundaries, which is important because of the aspiration thing I'm about to discuss.) The exceptions are archaic forms like "for Jesus' sake" /for|dži|zəs|seik/, but those can be ignored, since you can replace them all with the normal forms ("for Jesus's sake" /for|dži|zə|səz|seik/) and still be a perfectly good speaker of English.

Can people really not distinguish the C in car and scar?


Most English speakers cannot, because aspiration is not phonemic in English: aspirated voiceless plosives only occur at the beginning of a syllable and unaspirated voiceless plosives never occur there (complementary distribution), so English speakers literally cannot hear the difference without training, as Spanish speakers cannot hear the difference between /b/ and /v/ or between /i/ and /ɪ/ (as in beet and bit), neither of which is phonemic in Spanish. Since you're a Mandarin speaker and aspiration is phonemic in Mandarin Chinese (e.g. tao 'put on' vs. dao 'reach'; the difference between the sounds rendered t and d in pinyin is aspiration, not voicing, as is better shown in the older Wade-Giles system with t'ao and tao), you naturally hear the distinction easily.

There's discussion of this stuff here and here with more detail, if you're interested.

Remember, trying to get the pronunciation from the spelling is putting the cart before the horse; the spelling is just an attempt to convey the "true" (spoken) word, and in English a particularly inefficient one.
posted by languagehat at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


does the pronunciation change at all if the apostrophe s is short for "is"

No, it's exactly the same.

the c sound comes from different parts of my mouth

No, it's just got a puff of breath after it in car. You can easily tell the difference by holding a hand in front of your mouth when you say the words.
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


(Don't know how all that got italicized; it was just supposed to be car.)
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on November 12, 2006


Wow, putting your hand in front of your mouth when you say it really illustrates the difference... I can only barely hear it, but I can very obviously feel it. What an interesting thread.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 11:59 AM on November 12, 2006


"Rich's car is /ri|čəz|kar/ and James's yard is /džeim|zəz|yard/; there's no two ways about it. (I've added the vertical line to show the syllable boundaries, which is important because of the aspiration thing I'm about to discuss.) The exceptions are archaic forms like "for Jesus' sake" /for|dži|zəs|seik/, but those can be ignored, since you can replace them all with the normal forms ("for Jesus's sake" /for|dži|zə|səz|seik/) and still be a perfectly good speaker of English."

I agree on Richiz, but I (a fairly, I hope, competent English speaker) say "James'" and don't append a schwa+z. Further, and this could be because my linguistic peer-group locally is almost all African American, I don't hear anyone else using anything but the "archaic" form. And I have a neighbor named James, so it comes up fairly regularly.
I know, I know, regional variation, right?
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 PM on November 12, 2006


rhizome: The Joneses might be your neighbors, but it's the Jones' car that is red.

That is totally incorrect. Joe Jones is your neighbor. Joe Jones's car is red. His family are the Joneses. The Joneses' car is red. Outside of archaic holdovers, singular possessive is apostophe + s. Plural possessive ending in s is just apostrophe. Plural possesive not ending in s, apostrophe + s (children's, women's).
posted by dame at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2006


I think Thenewwazoo should look into the idea of writing "James's car", not "James' car", and pronouncing it accordingly.

I've been told by a few different people that this one of those British vs US things. I'm in NZ and we use the British version, so it would be James' car (pronounced with an extra syllable for the plural). My last name ends in an s so I've asked several English teachers and editing type people as I grew up to make sure I was doing it correctly. Apparently this isn't necessarily true in other countries though and James's is preferred in the US (I think, I'm less sure about that one).

I'm sure I've seen this on Tomato Nation but a google search didn't bring it up.
posted by shelleycat at 1:44 PM on November 12, 2006


James's is preferred in the US (I think, I'm less sure about that one)

Well, I think it is more common. Although I'm sure I have in the past seen a usage guide that said the choice was really up to the author.
posted by grouse at 3:44 PM on November 12, 2006


I know, I know, regional variation, right?

Yeah, and when I said "there's no two ways about it" I was thinking of the /ričs/ vs. /ri|čəz/ thing, not so much the Joneses. Sorry about that, but I'm glad to have prompted your input, which has increased my knowledge!
posted by languagehat at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2006


I've never heard of a soft-c sound.

Ça Va?
posted by oxford blue at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2006


Can people really not distinguish the C in car and scar?

Most English speakers cannot, because aspiration is not phonemic in English:


This is one of the great challenges in basic pronunciation for English (for example) speakers learning Korean, and vice versa. I've never actually seen a textbook (for studying Korean) discuss it, but Korean consonants come in groups which depend primarily on aspiration to distinguish them, and while voicing exists, it is unimportant to meaning. The exact opposite is, of course, the case in English. There are other issues too, but this one is fundamental.

It's not so much a matter of 'most English speakers cannot' as it is 'most English speakers are unaccustomed to listening for aspiration differences'. After years of half-assed Korean study, I still have difficulty distinguishing spoken ㄷ,ㄸ, and ㅌ or ㅂ,ㅃ,ㅍ triplets (for example).

Interesting that aspiration is also phonemic in Mandarin Chinese -- I didn't know that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2006


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