April 3, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips (April 2, 2008) apostrophe after s, amongst

Posted in apostrophe after s at 12:04 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Apostrophe after s in possessive case

From a reader:

I have a suggestion for a topic to cover if you’re open to it. Its the use of the apostrophe possessive use. Too many times have I read this: Doris’ schedule or Dr. Roberts’ calendar. If the noun is singular even if it ends in s, it’s still ‘s, right?

Well, yes–for singular words, that is true. There seems to be a lot of confusion around how to make a singular word that ends in a sibilant sound, such as s or z, possessive. And to further confuse things, there are questions about how to make plural words possessive.

First; a singular word that ends with a sibilant sound. In general, to make a singular word possessive, you add an ‘s. This hold true for words that end in a sibilant sound, too.

Examples: Doris’s schedule
Dr. Roberts’s schedule
The house’s chimney
The fish’s tail
An easy way to remember this is to pronounce the word and make it possessive the way it sounds. We would pronounce “Mark Roberts’s calendar” with the added s, and that’s how it should be written. If it ends in a silent s (e.g., Illinois), you will still make it possessive by adding the ‘s and when you pronounce it “Illinois’s,” the first s stays silent and the second is pronounced.

Second, a plural possessive. In general, you make the word plural and if the plural form ends in s, just add an apostrophe; otherwise, add an ‘s.

Examples: The fishes’ tails
The Fischers’ pet
The fissures’ steam
The children’s playground
The women’s manuscripts

Again, the best way to remember this is to pronounce the word. We wouldn’t say fishes’s, we just say fishes’ without an additional s.

Tip 2: Amongst, amidst, betwixt, whilst

These are all perfectly good words; however, they are best used in writing other than proposals, reports, and manuscripts. They are a bit dated and may sound poetic to our ears (and they do to mine), but since our goal is simplicity and clarity, it’s best to stick with among, amid, between, and while.

2 Comments »

  1. seltzer said,

    Alan wrote:

    Once upon a time it was taught that one could make a singular noun ending in s (but not z) possessive by merely adding an apostrophe after the final s — Doris’ schedule — and that was actually the preferred form. Today, I think most people consider this rule obsolete, so that Doris’s schedule, as you say below, is now considered the proper form.

    As to Amongst, amidst, betwixt, whilst these are perfectly good British English but now sound very affected when used by Americans even in writing.

  2. Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

    I’m Out! 🙂


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