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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » "The Smith's" or "The Smiths"?

   
Author Topic: "The Smith's" or "The Smiths"?
Crystal Stevens
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Just a little something that came up in my latest story was advice to drop the apostrophe in my frequent references to a married couple. Is it proper to say like:

The Smith's came over for dinner.

or better to say it like this?:

The Smiths came over for dinner.

The problem was my reader thought the first version sounded like a possessive than referring to the couple as intended. Also this is just an example of the problem and not a direct quote from my story. Comments?

Sorry. I meant apostrophe, not comma, and have made the correction.

[ December 11, 2011, 02:29 PM: Message edited by: Crystal Stevens ]

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Reziac
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The Smiths came over for dinner.
The Smiths' car died enroute.
Mr.Smith's cellphone didn't work either.
All in all, a lousy day for the Smith family.

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LDWriter2
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Not being an expert for this type of thing I agree with Reziac.

For Smith's to be right in a non possessive phrase you would need a is or maybe has after it. But that wouldn't work in this case since you would need are instead of is. As in The Smith's are a nice family. Or the Smiths are from Alpha Centauri.


But Reziac, that must have been some bad dinner.

[ December 11, 2011, 09:24 PM: Message edited by: LDWriter2 ]

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extrinsic
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An apostrope marks possessive case, or contractions, and has several other roles.

Possessive plural case, the Smiths' house. Smith's, singular case. But James', for names that end in s, or S-like sounds from Z or X endings. Aviatrix'. In some instances, though, James's (Jameses) for recording pronunciation verbatim.

A number contraction apostrophe usage, for years, for example, '80s for 1980s. Though prescriptively, a prime (straight apostrophe) is used instead of a curly apostrophe.

Letters used as words in plural case are marked with an apostrophe to signal distinction from common words, A's.

Abenezeer Jones, Barbara James, and Josuhua Smith's dogs fought over a bone, not Lois Larrue's. Elided possessive object in the latter clause. Each singular possessive, and only the last instance of a series marked with the possessive apostrophe.

[ December 11, 2011, 01:40 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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"The Smith's came over for dinner" doesn't just sound like possessive, it is possessive. An apostrophe with an s on a noun is possession. Putting just an s on the end pluralizes most nouns.

It isn't about which one is better, Smith's is wrong and Smiths is right.

I could see you contracting Smith with is to make Smith's. "Bob Smith's a dog." but that still has a greater chance for confusion. I recommend against it.

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Crystal Stevens
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The reason I always used an apostrophe is because whenever you see a sign hanging out at someone's house, farm, or home there is always an apostrophe: The Smith's, The Miller's, The Stoffle's, etc. So I just assumed that was the way it should be done.

Seems the majority agrees there should be no apostrophe. So I will leave it out. It's just that since I've always thought of it the other way, leaving it out looks very strange to me.

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annepin
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When people hang a door in front of their house I think the implication is that it's referring to the house, so it's "The Smith's Home". So you could say something like "I'm going over to the Smith's." (again, implying "home" or "house". But if you are referring to them as a couple there should be no apostrophe.
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extrinsic
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There has been an explosion of sign makers and sign consumers of late and, I don't know, for a few decades now, maybe longer, who don't know to apply the attributive case principle.

When a sign sports a person's name or a place's name or similar proper noun or other noun on it in an attributive context, it's not a possessive case, it's attributive case (attributive adjective).

Kings Arms Tavern, not King's Arm's Tavern.
Michaels Boutique, not Michael's Boutique.
Jones Restaurant, not Jones' Restaurant.
Twin Cities Bar and Grill, not Twin Cities' Bar and Grill.
The mean city streets, not the mean city's streets.

But these are Postmodern times. Anything goes. The custom and habit has shifted away from attributing meaning toward emphasizing personal ownership. Besides, keeping up with special principle exceptions is tedious. Far easier to simplify and always follow only one principle regardless of clarity dillution.

[ December 12, 2011, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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In English, if they're a married couple, it'd be "Smiths" without an apostrophe...if you're referring to something that's theirs, like a house, as annepin says, it's okay.

It's sometimes held that if something ends in "s", it's "s-apostrophe," but it's also held (in Strunk & White, among others), that it should be "s-aprostophe-s. I've never been certain.

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enigmaticuser
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Robert, I'd always heard singular ends in s or plural ending in s use just an apostrophe, but I just read "on Writing" by Mr. King and he seemed to have a strong anti opinion on the matter. He might have been leaning on Strunk & White.

I was wondering myself how the tide was changing or not changing. I find myself thinking in terms of style that with a singular I like 's but when dealing with a plural I like '.

I can't say that I have a good reason for that opnion.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Sadly many sign makers don't hire copy editors, particularly the out-of-their-garage crafters. A lot of people think it's that way, it makes me die a little when I see it in blog posts and such.

As to the 's after a name ending in s: Just say Betsy Ross' Flag. a couple times and see if it sounds right. Or James' fish. It seems pretty cut and dry to me, you pronounce the post-apostriphic s so why not write it? Is it an invisible s?

Chicago agrees that it should be 's at the end with the exception of Jesus' and Moses' because of classical uses. It still seems funky to me.

I blame some armchair grammarians back in time. They learned the plural possessive rule wrong and enforced their wrongness with an iron fist. It's probably the same ones who robbed us of the contraction for am not.

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Robert Nowall
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It's an odd quirk...but Strunk & White is often considered to be the definitive guide to grammar and usage, and if this "s-apostrophe-s" rule is, say, in error, it's a serious error for a definitive guide.

If we're dealing with sound rather than the written apostrophe, it would come out as "Betsy Rosses Flag," or "Jameses fish."

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extrinsic
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This topic and others like it where individual preferences might override a standardized principle raises a fascinating area of discussion for me. Mechanical style isn't so hard and fast a form it's straightfoward in every case. I believe the exception is the rule is the only principle that's consistent across the board, and writing for reading ease, of course, which is the number one guiding principle.

When I can't find applicable guidance in Chicago, for example, or another style manual or grammar handbook, I next resort to a dictionary of usage. If that fails me, I use an Internet search engine and sample what's most often used online, ever aware of the perils thereof. If that fails me, I punt, and follow my own best commonsense sensibilities based on maximum reading ease potential.

Recent examples that have come up in my work;

The attorneys's (or attorneys'es?) paralegal . . . is a verbatim spelling, apropos to the context; however, awkward to read and speak. What to do? I marked it with a suggestion for the alternative possessive principle: attorneys', easier to read and speak and doesn't change the meaning. That latter is critical, doesn't change the meaning. The lawyer who said that, a jaw-full-of-gravel talker he was.

Homeowners' association comes up often enough where I had to settle my postition on whether it's possessive or attributive case. I concluded it's attributive; therefore, no apostrophe indicated. Once I had that one down, I could then measure whether a sign with an apostrophied name is possessive or attributive case.

The sign reads Christy's Café. Seems to me attributive case; therefore, Christys Café. But that's awkward to read for a name that doesn't ordinarily have an S ending. It's not plural case. So not Christies, nor Christies'. What to do? The apostrophe is part of the trademark brand name anyway. So stet, let it stand. Internet search there, a majority of examples have an apostrophe, though attributive case. The café on point has a Web site, shows their sign name branding there, so stet anyway.

A lot of investigation, sure, but I'd rather provide appropriate suggestions than just copyedit from my own sensibilities and miss the mark.

Now, my writing is a different beast. Same fundamental reading ease principle, though prone to erudition for clarity's sake, but more inventive.

[ December 13, 2011, 12:40 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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A common indictment of Strunk and White is the text commits the very stylistic rule violation sins under discussion therein. A superficial read would take exception to that kind of situational irony, do as I say not as I do, hypocrisy, idiocy.

A closer read would see they are examples for investigating the stylistc faults thereof. A yet closer read would see the intentional verbal irony therein. And for Strunk and White readers like me, see the dramatic irony of it all and find Strunk and White insightful, informative, and amusing.

What exquisitely delicious, amusing subtext I find in language style manuals, notably Chicago and Hart's Rules, that's not in grammar handbooks, excepting prescriptive style manuals: MLA, APA, AP, CSE. No sense of humor in them.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so authoritative in my post. I was tired. It's a debate, but I do disagree with Strunk an White on this point.
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