• Jessica Brown

The possessive apostrophe

Should it be James’ or James’s? Is it DVDs or DVD’s? And is writing an s three times in a row ever allowed?

Today we will be taking a brief and breezy glance at the possessive apostrophe, and when and how it should be used in writing.


In short …


When indicating that something belongs to someone, an apostrophe is used, e.g. Lucy’s cat.


Acronyms


Using an apostrophe after an acronym in the plural is seen as outdated and, well, wrong. For example, “We sell DVD’s, CD’s and video games.” The apostrophes serve no purpose here: they are not substituting a missing letter, and the DVDs and CDs don’t possess anything.

Plurals


For plural possessives that end in s, you simply tag an apostrophe onto the end of it, e.g. the teachers’ staffroom.

For plurals that don’t end in s, add an apostrophe followed by an s, e.g. the children’s playground.

Names that end in s


This is not so clear cut, but one simple method I have found is to say the word out loud, and if you pronounce it with an additional ‘s’ sound then add it into the written form. Take my name, Jess, for example. Writing an s three times in a row on paper may look a bit unnatural, but Jess’s is perfectly correct, punctuationally speaking. That said, following some obligatory Google-based research, this seems to be an ongoing source of contention with various opinions on what is acceptable. So, if the triple s scenario really doesn’t sit well with you, I would claim its omission as a personal style choice and not lose any sleep over it.

Exceptions to the rule

There are some exceptions (of course there are!) due mainly to a mixture of tradition and style choice. For example, St Thomas’ Hospital and St James’ Park (the football stadium; the royal park in London is spelt James's). Also, when referring to Jesus Christ, it is always Jesus’.



References


Marsh, D. (2013) For Who the Bell Toll: The essential and entertaining guide to grammar. London: Faber & Faber and Guardian Books


New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, 2nd ed. (2014) Oxford: Oxford University Press


Truss, L. (2003) Eats, Shoots & Leaves. London: Profile Books





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