My understanding is that 1 and 3 are right but 2 is not. However, 3 is more appropriate than 1 unless you don't like the pronunciation of 3. I'm not an expert though. Anyone else?
Posts: 81 | Registered: Aug 2012
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My book on grammar states that generally, singular possessive nouns use an apostrophe before the 's' and plural possessive nouns use an apostrophe after the 's'. If the spelling of the owner ends in an 's', use an apostrophe after the 's'. Whether the owner is singular or plural isn't important.
Exceptions: Words with Latin 'us' endings, such as fungus and radius, use an apostrophe before the 's' in both the singular and plural.
Having a brother named James I worked this one out for myself a long time ago. When people would say "James' ball" it sounded like they were calling him Jame which angered my sensibilities.
Posts: 1879 | Registered: Mar 2004
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There's two parts to this question, a grammar part and an orthography (spelling etc.) part.
The grammar part is easy to answer using your ear, which is fortunate because it's not straightforward. Lets try to tackle the grammar part first (although you can skip over this if you trust your ear):
(1) Plural nouns formed in the usual way by appending in the sibilants "s" or "z" do not have have a distinct spoken form for the possessive. The ears of cats are referred to with this sound "cats ears" (typically spelled "cats' ears").
(2) Plural nouns formed in an irregular fashion ("man"->"men" rather than "cat" -> cats) ending get an "z" or "iz" sound added to form the plural. The rights of men are referred to with this sound: "menz rights". The gills of fish are are referred to with this sound "fishiz gills".
(3) Singular nouns not ending the the sibilants "s" or "z" get a "s" or "z" sound appended to form the plural. The fur of cats is spoken "cats fur". The composition of bones is said "bonez composition".
(4) Singular nouns ending in "s" or "z" are inconsistent sometimes an "iz" sound is added to make a plural, other times not. It seems to me that the unvoiced sibilant ("s") tends to get an "iz" and the voiced ("z") usually gets nothing. Thus the opinion of the princess would be referred to as "the princess-iz opinion", but the opinion of Dickens (not the "s" stands for the "z" sound) would be "Dickenz opinion." This rule might vary considerably by local dialect, so it's best to trust your ear.
Now lets' talk about how to put the plural down on the page -- the orthography. This is not a grammar issue per se but is more akin to spelling. There are four schools I know of.
School 1: add a bare apostrophe for nouns ending in "s" or "z" and apostrophe-s for everything else. This is how the nuns in Catholic school taught me back in the day when school desks had ink wells.
School 2: always add apostrophe-s except with rare exceptions like ancient names. This is Strunk and White's position, but in general that book is unreliable in matters of grammar.
School 3: adding apostrophe-s is always preferred but a bare apostrophe is an acceptable alternative for words ending in "s" or "z".
School 4: use apostrophe-s to represent the "iz" sound where it is appended and bare apostophe for words ending is "s" or "z" that sound the same as their non-possessive form, thus "the princess's opinion differed from Dickens' opinion."
Personally, I am of School 4 because it makes the most sense phonetically, but the bottom line is that you're going to have to adhere to whatever rule your editor prefers for his market.
Short question, long answer I know, but really there is no satisfactory short answer to this short question.
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Grammar handbooks and style manuals differ considerably about possessive apostrophes for singular nouns ending in S. In many cases the choice is a writer's. In many cases which of the choices to use depends on a discourse's discipline and its associated style manual. MLA for humanities, for example. APA for social sciences. CSE for physical sciences. AP for journalism.
For prose writing Chicago Manual of Style is the preferred reference. Chicago recommends—note: recommends—as follows;
James' crate: when that's the phonetic intent James's crate: when that's the phonetic intent
However: The class's papers; is the conventional phonetic spelling for possessive words ending in double S's.
Avoid awkward uses; for example, plural possessives of names: the four Jameses' cars. Unless in dialogue and that's what is meant to be pronounced.
In other words, if the possessive S is meant to be pronounced, use it. For a best practice, resort to the appropriate style manual's recommendations for special cases. Like Descartes' belief or United States' position or Xerxes' sword or the species' habitat or for politics' sake.
Contrarily, recasting for the use of of in many cases avoids awkward possessive apostrophes: the sword of Xerxes. However: the sword of Xerxes' making. However: the politics of manners; the manners of politics' courtesies.
Attributive cases do not generally take a possessive form; however, increasing apostrophe usage for the attributive case makes the practice acceptable and in some cases necessary. Like for signage: James Jones Tavern or James Jones' Tavern or James Jones's Tavern.
Clear as mud, I know. A best practice resorts to a grammar handbook or style manual's guidance, but ultimately boils down to a writer's choice, recognizing and deploying the first principle of writing: facilitate reading and comprehension ease.