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Dickens' or Dickens's? Lucas' or Lucas's?

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I know the rules are a mess. Wikipedia has a good write-up. Both extremes have their drawbacks.

Those who robustly insist on the modern s's for all singular nouns either have to bite the bullet and insist on Jesus's, Moses's, Rameses's, and Achilles's, all of which look stupid ("Achilles's heel"?), or else try to bracket out certain traditional usages. But where do you draw the line? What about James? Does Saint James get one usage and P. D. James another? Etc.

On the other hand, those who apply the traditional s' across the board run into some oddities. Although the s sound at the end of names is often doubled for the possessive, some -s possessive names can be pronounced with a single s sound. "Jesus' teaching" can be pronounced "Jesus-es teaching," but it's also possible to say it "Jesus teaching," and I think the traditional orthography presupposes the validity of this pronunciation. Likewise "Dickens' short tale," "Julia Roberts' performance," "Sturges' fast-paced direction," etc. But then there are cases like "Lewis' fiction" or "Jess' car," which I think would sound stupid if you didn't double the s, and to my eye at least look clipped and less plausible than "Lewis's fiction" and "Jess's car." Or consider "Maximus' revenge" -- clearly I would say "Maximus-es revenge," and so there's a case for writing it "Maximus's revenge."

I've been toying with the idea of letting pronunciation be the determining factor. Thus, if I would say "Sturges' fast-paced direction" without doubling the s sound, I would leave off the extra s, but if I would say "Lewis's fiction" with a doubled s, then I would put it in.

The problem is, as I get down to cases, I find that often enough either pronunciation seems plausible to me. "Dawkins' assault on Christendom." Dawkins-es. Dawkins. Dawkins-es. Dawkins. I could go either way. I'm not sure my perceptions might not even be affected by what the next word is, or other sentence structure considerations.

For awhile I thought that perhaps names with a SOFT s want a doubled s so that they can end with a z sound, like "Lewis's" and "Guiness's," whereas hard-s names like "Dickens" and "James" can get away with a single s sound at the end. But then I discovered seeming exceptions. For instance, I would never say "Tommy Lee Jones' performance" without doubling the s sound, whereas "Julia Roberts' performance" sounds okay to me with or without a doubled s.

Wikipedia mentions polysyllabic status as another possible differentiating criterion. I have no idea what to make of that. ("Howard Hawks' film." Hawks. Hawks-es. Hawks. Hawk-es. Both sound fine to me. My brain is turning to mush.)

In despair of a better solution, I am contemplating retreating to the traditional usage and just dropping the extra s in every case. Yes, even "Jess' car." At least I'll be consistent. And it'll be easier to apply via search and replace.

Any other thoughts?

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Grammar Girl says the rules vary according to circumstances and/or which style-book you prefer.

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. {The exceptions according to Fowler’s are words such as Moses and Bridges that end with an s that makes an /iz/ sound, classical names such as Zeus and Venus, and Jesus.} 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.

That may not have been very helpful.

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Grammar Girl says the rules vary according to circumstances and/or which style-book you prefer.

Yes. That is what I am trying to figure out: Which style book do I prefer (in this case, at least)?

That may not have been very helpful.

No. ::blush::

P.S. Another challenge for my leaning toward global s': Seuss'? Hmph.

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I've always used s' globally. This issue causes havoc for us at my ad agency. Usually we wind up applying the rule per client preference which causes headaches when you have multiple client accounts who each prefer it differently.

:think014:

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In general, I have been under the impression that it was okay to double the S unless the name in question already had a double-S built into it, such as "Jesus" or "Moses". But I can't guarantee that I've followed this rule consistently.

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The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.19 through 6.30, has a clear and comprehensive set of rules for this.

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The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.19 through 6.30, has a clear and comprehensive set of rules for this.

I used to have a copy of the Chicago Manual at the office, but not anymore. FWIW, Wikipedia says "Generally, Chicago Manual of Style is in line with the majority of current guides, and recommends the traditional [sic] practice but provides for several exceptions to accommodate spoken usage, including the omission of the extra s after a polysyllabic word ending in a sibilant." It also notes "some modern writers omit the extra s in all cases, and Chicago Manual of Style allows this as an 'alternative practice'." I am attracted to that "alternative practice" for the sake of consistency, but some cases give me pause. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe#cite_note-14]

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Well, it's worth owning a copy. It has helped me settle many such disputes. The current edition is the 15th, but the 14th is perfectly adequate for questions like this one, and secondhand copies can be had on Amazon for as little as $3.89.

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It seems like the way the possessive is pronounced corresponds with how plausibly we can retain a name-like thing by removing the final 's' sound.

e.g.

Julia Roberts' sounds like Julia Robert's. (+1)

Jesus' sounds like Jezuh's. (-999)

For the above I would still spell it Jesus', but pronounce it Jesus-es.

'Course there are ambiguous cases, but I think it applies pretty generally. Jess' sounds like Jeh's, so we say Jess-es (and I spell Jess's). Even with Dawkins, it sort of works. I can see 'Dawkin' being a popular boys' name in some alternate universe, so Dawkins sounds reasonably possessive. So maybe: go with whatever feels natural, and in the case that both meet that criterion, choose the simpler version.

Edited by KShaw

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So... Genesis' or Genesis's?

I favor the former.

Genesis' favorite toy. Genesis' friends. Genesis' time out.

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SDG: I am on vacation this week. Why must you vex me with these work-related conundrums?

Can this thread be temporarily deleted until I return to my duties next Monday? ;)

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I tried to write out a list of vocal usages that pattern after sibilant/ and dental word endings, but it is tough. I do consistently pronounce words that contain a dental consonant in their last syllable without the addition "s". Jones' Roberts' Dawkins'

But I am inconsistent with sibilant endings: Lewis's vs James' But when referring to something like Guinness will say: the Guinness factory or the Guinness glass rather than saying Guinness's factory or Guinness's glass.

Can you simply employ one pattern in writing and one in speech? I like the orthography of s'.

Edited by MLeary

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Around here we spell Guinness with two n's ... or three if we've imbibed a lot of it.

In answer to your question, yes, you certainly can employ one pattern in writing and another in speech. You might risk running afoul of the ortho-locutionists, but fortunately they seem to be fewer in number than the orthographers.

Edited by mrmando

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Ah, well, that's because you drink it at room temperature, as you should. I've been places where someone was dumb enough to chill it. This makes me shiver when I drink it, for two reasons: 1) it's cold; 2) it doesn't taste right. Try to say the name "Guinness" while shivering and you're likely to pronounce both n's.

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This has been a day-to-day reality for me, since both my (shortened) first name and last name end in "s." Here's my first-person experience:

Strunk and White has always been my favorite style book. I know-- I'm old-fashioned. I like the book's lack of jargon and, frankly, its brevity. I'm going from recall here, but those guys advocate 's for every possessive noun except, I believe, for Jesus. I always loved that exception. It's like the grammatical equivalent of a red-letter NT.

The sound you make when you speak a possessive noun ending-in-"s" is the same-- that "szs" sound-- regardless of how it's spelled, so this is really only a writing issue, and not a speaking one. For my money, 's is the better approach for a bunch of reasons. First, for teaching and remembering, there's a value in preserving the grammatical consistency that allows us to say that every singular noun, regardless of what letter it ends in, is made possessive by ending an apostrophe and an "s." Except, of course, for Our Lord. We also, through this approach, maintain the consistency that only plural possessive nouns have got the apostrophe on the outside. Second, while you and I both know that nouns ending in "s" are made plural by adding "es" to the end, there are too many people out there who are just gonna mess up that distinction, either in writing it themselves or reading somebody else's writing, and they'll insist that adding an apostrophe to the end of a word ending in "s" is the way to make it possessive and plural. To that end, adding an "s" to the end of a singular noun is just asking for trouble. Third, it's just aesthetically nicer-looking, in my view, on a page. Everybody else's name, when made possessive, gets to end in 's. Why not mine? ;)

And now, an anecdote: Don't you love how our "s"-ending names drive commercial engravers berserk? My uncle was bought one of those carved stones for outside his house. It's the sort of thing that would normally say the name of the family in possessive form. He's a bachelor. It's his house. What do you do? Do you use the singular? Where does the apostrophe go? The engraver took a weird way out and wrote on this stone "The Lucass." Yeah, really. No apostrophe, double "s." Is it a gift disguised as an insult or an insult disguised as a gift?

Edited by Russ

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FWIW I recently changed from writing Jesus's to Jesus' on my blog. On another I've always just gone with Jesus'

What us the plural of Jesus by the way? I've heard some advoctate Jesi, but tend just to go with Jesuses.

Try to say the name "Guinness" while shivering and you're likely to pronounce both n's.

I think I always pronounce both Ns. Perhaps it's just because of the "Ness-a-Guin" advert from the 80s.

Matt

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What us the plural of Jesus by the way? I've heard some advoctate Jesi, but tend just to go with Jesuses.

Jesuses. I've never heard anyone seriously promote Jesi. I'd think they were joking. It's a needlessly cute and confusing Latinism, and doesn't have breadth of use on its side. Adding to the confusion would be the possessive form of Jesi: Jesi's (looks singular) vs. Jesuses' (obviously plural). Seems to fall under the "we speak English, so let's speak English" category.

Edited by D.N.

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When I wrote my dissertation (including a chapter on C.S. Lewis), I had a debate (which grad students never win) with the assigned proofreader from the graduate dean's office. I was told that "Lewis's" was acceptable except when the following word began with the letter "s." Hence, I could write "Lewis's novel" but was asked to correct to Lewis' story" (or some other example). I argued that it should be consistent...that having the differences, even on the same page, looked like an error. As I say, one never wins debates with ranking academics. 

So, if memory serves, I rewrote every sentence that had "Lewis's" followed by an "s" word. 

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