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Apostrophe Catastrophe (Part Two)

How to make singular and plural words that end with "s" possessive. It's an apostrophe style choice.

By
Mignon Fogarty
January 5, 2007
Episode #035

Page 1 of 3

apostrophe

Today's topic is tough apostrophe issues.

How do You Make Singular Words Ending in S Possessive?

I said it in the last episode about apostrophes, and I'll say it again: there are some confusing situations when it comes to apostrophes. For example, Christine, from Portland, Oregon; Judy from Traverse City, Michigan; Katy from Australia; Kristi from Washington, D.C.; and Rick from Las Vegas, Nevada, all asked how to make a singular word that ends in s possessive. I know that this is a raging debate even at the highest levels of government because Tracey from Mountain View, California, and a listener named Arman both sent me a funny article describing U.S. Supreme Court squabbles over making the word Kansas possessive. Words such as Kansas that end with an s can be stumpers when it comes to apostrophes.

Is it Kansas's statute with an apostrophe s or Kansas' statute with just an apostrophe at the end? Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and prefers to leave off the extra s, referring to Kansas' statute with just an apostrophe at the end, whereas Justice David Souter wrote the dissenting opinion and prefers the double s of Kansas's statute with an apostrophe before the final s.

So who's right? The first clue is that Justice Thomas' name ends with an s, so you might guess that he is more familiar with the issue. Associated Press style also recommends leaving off the extra s. Some of you have noticed that I tend to favor AP style, so you won't be surprised to learn that I prefer to leave off the extra s. Unfortunately, I have to admit that this isn't a hard-and-fast rule; it's a style issue. Other style books such as Fowler's Modern English Usage recommend adding the apostrophe s to almost all singular words that end with s.*  So our first tough issue—how to make words that end with s possessive—doesn't actually have an answer; it's a style issue and you can do it either way.

Next: What About Plural Words That End in "S"?

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