An Ass' Guide to Possessives


Be you a law geek, a grammar geek, or both, or neither, I recommend to you this article, addressing the Supreme Court's use of the additional "s" when constructing the possessive of a singular noun that ends in s. It contains such brilliant passages as this:

Whereas Thomas apparently believes that whenever a singular noun ends in s, an additional s should never be placed after the apostrophe, Souter has made equally clear his conviction that an s should always be added after the apostrophe when forming a singular possessive, regardless of whether the nonpossessive form already ends in s. With this acrimonious undercurrent simmering in the background, Souter boldly began his Marsh dissent as follows: “Kansas’s capital sentencing statute provides . . .” This dramatic and gratuitous use of the possessive was an obvious attack on Thomas, who, as one of three s-ending members of the Court, is viewed as a role model for the millions of children who grow up with the stigma of grammatical ambiguity attached to their names.

The rest of the article takes on the matter with comparable vigour. For the record, apparently the Court's view, by a 7-2 majority, is that the extra "s" should be omitted. This is my view as well. According to the article this approach, while popular, is technically incorrect.


I am a strong proponent of the "always add 's" rule. This issue has been near to my heart since I was 6 years old, when we had a neighbor named James. I spent the better part of one afternoon thinking about how to tell my mom that I was going to his house.

The simple fact is that when you utter the sentence "I'm going to James's house", you say [james-uhz]; you do not just say [james]. (If you do, you are probably retarded.) The written version should reflect this, hence you add an apostrophe ess.

Also, dropping the ess creates an unnecessary exception to the simple English rule, "To form a singular possessive, add 'apostrophe ess' to the end of the word." English is broken enough without extra exceptions to simple rules.

My friend Hoss goes so far as to add apostrophe DOUBLE ESS when making a possessive out of words that end with two esses, e.g. "This is Hoss'ss stapler." This rule is clearly excessive, but I would still rather have this than the obvious abortion, "This is Hoss' stapler."

The "no apostrophe s" rule is a daily point of contention in my office. I fall on the "yes apostrophe s" side, but my boss doesn't. Every now and then, I try to slip one in and see if it gets caught. So far I haven't won.

This is delightful. It's heartening that the US Supreme Court is taking an interest in grammar (even though the majority opinion is definitely wrong on this one), and I certainly understand why we colonials might not want blindly to follow the rules of the King's English without reevaluating them in an American context. But doesn't the very fact of the Court's rendering a decision on a grammatical issue show their blatant contempt for the First Amendment? Or would that just be if Congress decided to weigh in?

The Supreme Court gets to decide what the First Amendment means, so if the Court says that there's a compelling government interest in preventing imminent harm from wayward esses, then the First Amendment will provide no protection.

Now, the Court can only approve an existing regulation, it can't create a regulation by itself. Under the circumstances, though, it seems that our right to add an ess after the apostrophe to indicate the possessive of a name ending in ess is in grave danger in case of Congressional movement on the issue.

I support the extra esses.

I agree with Tyler. People are lazy enough about apostrophes. If you want to use an apostrophe in a text message, you will have to hit the "1" key 17 times.

You need that s. Hanging apostrophes haunt me when I see them. It's like they are defying gravity being supported on only one side. It defys the laws of grammer and Newtonian physics.

The hanging apostrophe is mostly aesthetic. It's actually supposed to help us make things clearer for plural posessive.

ie - The Joneses' backyard.

"Joneses's" is just too unbearable for words. One is forced to look away or be felled by a grammatical ark of the covenant.

Arg! When the word ending with an "s" is singular, you add apostrophe-s. So: Jones's.

When it's plural you add just apostrophe. So: Jonses'. Joneses's *is* too unbearable for words and it is also wrong.

Everybody should read Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss to get edumacated on this all-important subject.

Yeah, I have to say apostrophe-s is absolutely necessary. There's a slippery slope there, that I've actually seen people careening down, involving proper nouns ending with "x" or "z." Horrifying. Matt, stop the madness. Go ahead and hang that "s" on there, you'll be a better man for it.

Apostrophe s! Apostrophe s!

strunk & white's elements of style insists on the extra 's.' I know there are probably people nowadays who don't respect strunk & white as they ought -- ignorant, foolish people, I believe is their official title -- but I hope none of the IFTL readers are of that persuasion.

Is there a word that is singular to begin with, add 's' and it becomes plural, add another 's' and it becomes singular again?


+s = "cares"

+s = "caress"

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This page contains a single entry by hb published on October 14, 2006 11:31 AM.

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