Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PoSSeSSive S

Happy Hump-day, everyone! Snow in Georgia again and all the kiddies are out of school. I have to say, I'm more than ready for spring so I can get back to a normal schedule. This weather and being sick last month has really thrown me off. Anyway, enough about all that. Let's move on to today's post about the possessive S. Grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

If you aren't familiar with INDIE Books Gone Wild, allow me to share a bit of information with you. Every now and then, one of us posts on that blog about grammar, punctuation, or other little tidbits we find frequent errors revolving around. Before we get to the good stuff here, pop on over there and check out Tia's post on the Apostrophe. Yeah, it matters. Go read that sucker.

Now, I'm a Chicago Manual of Style lady. I have a copy of the 15th edition, and I follow it to the letter when doing an edit. Of course, this causes some of my clients to have small hernias when they don't agree with my edits or they have a style guide that's different from mine (which is totally fine, they should go with what feels right to them). I try to be very clear on our About Us page over on IBGW and state that I use the book I own as a reference. So, today's discussion will be the rules from that style guide.

When you show possession of a singular noun (not the demonic kind), the rule says you add an apostrophe and an S to the end of the word (section 7.17). Examples:
  • Dora's shoes.
  • Kitten's playground.
  • Lola's necklace.
But what if those words end in S?

Well, here's where we get into a bit of a pickle. When choosing names, one usually avoids the ones ending in S so they don't have this conundrum. If you happen to select one that ends in S, how do you handle it? This is where the general guides don't agree.

If you're showing possession of a collective, like a family or group whose names or title of the collective end in S, the solution is easy, you add an apostrophe to the end. Examples:
  • The Huss' house (this is the Huss family).
  • The Picketts' son (this is the Picketts family).
  • Those kittens' meows (more than one kitten).
  • These dogs' leashes (more than one dog).
However, if you have a character who's named Cleatus, how do you show possession?

In section 7.18, page 282 of The Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition, it states: The general rule covers most proper names, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers. This means writing the name and adding an apostrophe with another S at the end. Examples:
  • I saw Cleatus's sneakers over there.
  • We went to the mall to get Kriss's new purse.
  • I can listen for hours to Venheis's violin.
Now, this is the way it's written out in the guideline. I think, when reading, it keeps me from thinking there's more than one Cleatus who owns sneakers I saw over there, and makes the possessive name read more easily.

All this is great! But...

Yeah, you knew there was a but. *grin*

In section 7.23, there's a suggestion for an alternative usage by simply adding the apostrophe to the end of the name. While easier to remember and apply, I think it reads with a clunky timbre. But, try it both ways and see what works for you. This goes back to Tia's post I mentioned above, where she talks about Strunk and White.

Before we wrap this post on possessive S up, I'd like to remind you of another rule of possession you may not be familiar with. Section 7.24 talks about more than one noun. When mutually exclusive, both nouns get an apostrophe S. If both are owning the same item, only the second named gets the punctuation. Examples:
  • My daughter-in-law and son's house.
  • Our niece and nephew's car.
  • or
  • My ex daughter-in-law's and son's houses.
  • Our niece's and nephew's cars.
Seems a lot of stress rests on the S.

How can you avoid this when writing fiction? Easy: Choose names that don't end in S when you're making your list.

I hope you all enjoyed our little lesson for today. If you have questions, comments, or otherwise, feel free to pop them into the comments section.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. UGH! This drives me crazy. I did so much research on this since I have several characters ending with s. I read mostly that as long as your consistent, it can go either way. Then there was the the words that end with a z sound should have s' (because you wouldn't say Dickens's-meaning saying the s twice doesn't sound right) while words that end in the s sound should be s's (like sorceress's sounds okay). So confusing. I asked my niece what they're teaching in high school and she said it's s' all the time, but they'll accept it if you follow the z and s sound logic. I just wish all the sources could get on the same page about stuff like this. Sigh.

    1. It's a personal style choice, but the key is consistency :) I wrote a bit about that just today. LOL! It's one of the major things I find when editing. As long as the author is consistent, I don't bother it too much. Thanks for the comment, L. K., and I'm with you about them getting on the same freaking page about rules. :)


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