Grammar Apostrophes and Proper Nouns |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Apostrophes and Proper Nouns

Take a close look at this sentence about the great playwright Tennessee Williams: It’s Tennessee William’s best play. Note the placement of the apostrophe. It disfigures the name Williams—how could that be right? Here’s a rule to live by: Forget the apostrophe until you write out the entire word. A correct possessive apostrophe can never entangle itself within any word. So by writing Williams out first, you can avoid a lot of trouble.

The trouble that can’t be avoided comes next, because there are conflicting policies for writing possessive proper nouns that end in s. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends just an apostrophe: It’s Tennessee Williams’ best play. But most other authorities endorse ’s: Williams’s.

Williams’s means “belonging to Williams.” It is not the plural form of Williams. People’s names become plural the way most other words do. Only rank amateurs think the plural of cat is cat’s. Names are no different. They seem different because of human vanity: we’re somehow reluctant to compromise the “purity” of Smith so we mistakenly write the Smith’s, adding the apostrophe to establish a respectful distance between the name and the s rather than simply writing the Smiths, the Fongs, the Calderóns.

Now, what if the name ends in s? Figuring out the plural of a name like Williams drives people crazy. Some would write the Williams, but that means the family’s name is William. Others employ that misguided apostrophe: the Williams’ or the Williams’s or even the William’s. That last one is particularly ghastly. Taken literally, the William’s means something ridiculous: “belonging to the William.” Forcing an apostrophe between the m and s mangles and mocks the name.

All names ending in s become plural by adding es. Make it the Williamses. To show possession, add just an apostrophe: Williamses’. The house belonging to the Williams family is the Williamses’ house. Maybe you’re thinking it sounds ridiculous and looks bizarre. But it’s also correct.

Let’s look at some other types of proper nouns …

• Many organizations, companies, and government agencies are known by two or more capital letters (AP, MGM, EEOC). Initialisms ending in S show possession by adding ’s: CBS’s ratings, DHHS’s policies.

• Add only an apostrophe to show possession for a place, business, or organization whose name is a plural noun or ends with a plural noun: the Everglades’ scenery, Beverly Hills’ weather; the Cellars’ wine list, General Mills’ cereals.

• Most writers and editors make an exception for biblical and classical proper names ending in s. Traditionally, only an apostrophe is added to such names: Moses’ law, Xerxes’ army. However, the influential Chicago Manual of Style recently ruled against this odd policy and started recommending Moses’s, Xerxes’s, etc.

For apostrophes with possessive proper nouns, remember these three guidelines: If the noun is singular, add ’s (Kansas’s). If the noun is plural but does not end in s, add ’s (the Magi’s gifts). If the noun is plural and ends in s, add just an apostrophe (the Beatles’ greatest hits).

Except for writers who abide by Associated Press guidelines, apostrophe rules for possessive proper nouns are virtually identical to those for possessive common nouns.


Pop Quiz
Correct any wayward sentences.

1. John Quincy Adams was John Adam’s son.
2. Both Adams’ achievements were notable.
3. When in New York, she always enjoyed the Four Season’s food.
4. Al Johnson brought the Johnson’s favorite dessert.
5. Carlos Valdez says the Valdez’s car is in the shop.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. John Quincy Adams was John Adams’s son. (some would write Adams’)
2. Both Adamses’ achievements were notable.
3. When in New York, she always enjoyed the Four Seasons’ food. (Four Seasons’s would also be correct.)
4. Al Johnson brought the Johnsons’ favorite dessert.
5. Carlos Valdez says the Valdezes’ car is in the shop.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

83 responses to “Apostrophes and Proper Nouns”

  1. Erin Rich says:

    You mention an easy rule for names that end in “s.” Just add “es.” I just want to confirm that this is also true for names that end in “sh” or “ch.” Names like “Rich.”

  2. Darlene L. says:

    Thank you so much for this! One thing that drives me crazy is to hear a pastor or speaker talking about something belonging to Jesus and saying “Jesus’s.” I’ve also seen a lot of books and documents lately that write the possessive of James as James’s. It just goes against my grain.

    • We certainly understand how certain ways of saying things can sometimes sound strange to us. However, either Jesus’ or Jesus’s as well as James’ or James’s are grammatically acceptable.

      • Darlene L. says:

        I was taught that James’s or Jesus’s is incorrect. When did this change?

        • Both Jesus’s and James’s still mostly are considered verboten when the reference is to biblical names. Jesus and James are both common names these days (Jesus, especially in the Hispanic community), and would require ’s. The Chicago Manual of Style changed its apostrophe-only policy in the last few years, a bold move that we welcome.

  3. Fred B. says:

    When we say Moses’ law, we pronounce Moses’ with three syllables. It makes sense that we could spell it Moses’ or Moses’s. When we say Xerxes’ army, we pronounce Xerxes’ with two syllables (at least I would). It makes no sense to spell it Xerxes’s (which we would be inclined to pronounce as three syllables).

    Does the way in which we are inclined to pronounce the word help determine how we spell it? It makes sense to me that it would.

    • There are so many exceptions and qualifications about possessive apostrophes—plus or minus s—in various editors’ policies, and countless, seemingly irrational, exceptions. In these articles, we have tried to identify the rules that are closest to universal, and left out some areas that more advanced readers may wish we’d cover. In the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation we provide a few alternatives for dealing with the tricky area of possessives of nouns ending in s, including a “write the word as we would speak it” option. But this method, too, has exceptions and can let you down, especially since not everyone would necessarily pronounce the same written word in the same way.

  4. Buffy says:

    Has the rule about showing the possessive of names ending in S
    changed in the last 60+ years? I am an old timer in my 80’s, but I was at the top of my English class when I was in school.

    Am I deluded? Is my memory faulty? Wasn’t I taught that it was
    Mrs. Jones’ dog and the Reynolds’ cat? Or have I been doing it
    wrong all these years?

    My life was spent first as a newspaper writer and later as an English teacher. I even authored a published book. Today I got
    a question on the quiz WRONG. My day is ruined! Please tell me the rules have changed.

    • Please don’t despair even though we haven’t been able to save your ruined day. Indeed the “rules,” which are really customs and conventions in this case, have changed over the years. As we point out in the blog “Apostrophes and Proper Nouns,” there are conflicting policies for writing possessive proper nouns that end in s. You may write either Mrs. Jones’ dog or Mrs. Jones’s dog (our recommendation); just be consistent.

  5. Gina says:

    Query regarding “Veterans Day.” On the government website, this is how it’s (not) punctuated. Shouldn’t it instead be “Veterans’ Day?” (And as a side query, is that question mark in the right place? I lived for several years in the UK and it’s sometimes difficult to keep straight.)

    • The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs explains, “Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an “s” at the end of “veterans” because it is not a day that “belongs” to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.” Therefore, since Veterans is not possessive, an apostrophe is not necessary.

      In American English usage, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. However, the placement of question marks with quotation marks follow logic. Since the quotation marks surround a term inside the sentence, the question mark should be outside the quotation marks:

      Shouldn’t it instead be “Veterans’ Day”?

  6. Patsy T. says:

    I work for a school district which has students with varied ethnic backgrounds. I have encountered several students with apostrophes in the middle of their name, but I also have one with an apostrophe at the end of the first name, e.g., Kateroy’. I write reports which provide information about the students. In the report I must give information about “Kateroy’s” grades, attendance, scores, etc. This would make “grades of” very awkward. What is the correct possessive spelling of an individual who spells their name like this?

  7. Nicole says:

    How would one pronounce a name with an apostrophe such as Jurn’i? I ask because my sister has named her son this and she pronounces it Journey.

  8. chris says:

    I’m creating a byline for a college’s newsletter.Let’s say the name of the college is X. Would it be “X’s news and information” or “X news and information”?

  9. Carrie M. says:

    I work with urban students that have unique names. What would you suggest if a person’s name ends with an apostrophe?

    Example: Jalina Le’
    Suggested Answers:
    Jalina Le’s
    Jalina Le’’s
    Jalina Le’s’

    • We know of no rule covering this situation. Where possible, we recommend a rewrite to avoid the possessive case: The class work of Jalina Le’, for instance. If this cannot be avoided, common sense suggests that you put a space between the two apostrophes: Jalina Le’ ‘s class work.

    • Robert says:


      I know a company called Tricker’s, which makes bespoke shoes. They have a store in London. It is it Tricker’s’ store, Tricker’s’s store or something else?

  10. jorge says:

    Willianses’ or Willianses’s ? also correct?

  11. Victoria says:

    Could you settle a debate between my husband and I? We have a neighbor with a metal sign over their back yard reading “Wilson’s”. Their last name is Wilson. The debate is whether or not it is proper grammar to have the apostrophe Included. Please settle this for us.

    • The apostrophe is almost certainly incorrect. The sign with ‘s implies that there is one person named Wilson who is in possession of something. Wilsons’ would imply plural possession, such as “the Wilsons’ yard” or “the Wilsons’ house.” Wilsons with no apostrophe would imply the Wilson family lives here. Please see our post Apostrophes with Names.

      • Beth Clarke says:

        Thank you! I wish we could get the word out to those that make the signs. Most of the signs just say “The Wilsons” with nothing like “house” after the name. People need to tell the sign makers to not use apostrophes.
        The Wilsons
        The Joneses (Looks odd, but correct)
        The Foxes
        The Clarks
        The Youngs

  12. DeAnne says:

    Would it be incorrect to say Qdoba’s for a sentece such as, “We are going to a Qdoba’s restaraunt.” The name of the restaurant is Qdoba. What is the ruling for the correct usage? Thank you!

    • Writing Qdoba’s implies “belonging to Qdoba.” Since the name of the restaurant is Qdoba, we recommend writing “We are going to a Qdoba restaurant,” or “We are going to Qdoba restaurant.”

  13. Roy Baquiran says:

    Kindly please correct me in this theme for our general assembly:

    “PICE Qatar’s Decade of Global and Sustainable Excellence” or
    “PICE Qatars’ Decade of Global and Sustainable Excellence”


  14. Deborah Cartwright says:

    Thank you. It makes me a bit crazy – and then frustrated that my auto-correct on my iPad and PC always inserts an apostrophe when I am trying to make a proper name plural. For example: The Cartwrights will attend. I just had to correct my auto-correct as it assumed – wrongly – that an apostrophe was called for. What to do, what to do?

    • We feel your pain. People who care, proofread their writing. Autocorrect will not detect every error, and will sometimes incorrectly change correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling.

  15. Beer Snob says:

    Ordering a yard sign for a family member whose last name is Smith. I propose that the sign should read: “The Smiths”, but I feel that others believe that the correct way to display it would instead be: “The Smith’s”. Which is correct?

  16. Ace says:

    What if the name has a numerical reference like certain popes… For example Pope John XXIII? how would this be written? where would the ‘s go?

  17. Pam says:

    How do you punctuate to show two different people authored an article, for example, I read the Smith/Jones article

    Smith-Jones (hyphen) looks like a married last name, while Smith/Jones looks like “either-or”

    What is the correct way?

  18. Nazmul Haque Shamim says:

    Kushtia Government Girls High School is a Girls’ high school. But what should be its correct name by using apostrophe:
    1. `Kushtia Government Girls High School’ or
    2. Kushtia Government Girls’ High School ?

    Would you please help me?

  19. Marilu says:

    What is the correct way to write a plural possession, for instance: Mary and Bob’s kitchen? Would you write it as above or would you write, Mary’s and Bob’s kitchen?

    • Our Rule 4a of Apostrophes says, “If two people possess the same item, put the apostrophe + s after the second name only.” Therefore, write “Mary and Bob’s kitchen.”

      • Tina R. Gonzales says:

        What about for those with more than 3 names owning the same thing, as in Bob’s, Alex’s and Mary’s restaurant? or should it be Bob, Alex and Mary’s restaurant? Thanks in advance for your reply.

  20. Alex says:

    The information is helpful, but your final example of the Beatles is poorly selected. The reason for this being “the Beatles,” while Beatles is written as plural, does not refer to multiple Beatles in this case. Instead, it refers to the singular entity, the one band, the Beatles. Therefore, “the Beatles’s greatest hits” should be written in the afformentioned way. A better example would be “Dave Grohl’s bands’ greatest hits.”

    • We see your point. The principle remains the same though, since Beatles serves as both a singular and plural term (see Apostrophes rules 1c and 2d). We can look at it from another angle. Take the Rolling Stones, for example. Would we say “The Rolling Stones are my favorite band,” or “The Rolling Stones is my favorite band.” Almost everyone would choose the former. The same principle applies to the Beatles.

  21. Tammy Baldwin says:

    Where does the apostrophe go? Plaintiff, John Doe’s objection….. OR Plaintiff’s, John Doe, objections…..

  22. CC Anderson says:

    I am planning to make a cutting board for my friend and would like to do it properly. I intend to use her first name as Kerri and the word kitchen showing it is her kitchen; however, she has children and I would like it to be personal. Would I use Kerri’s for singular or do it for the household and put Kerris’ kitchen?

    • Writing “Kerri’s Kitchen” is fine for a personal gift. If you wish to include the children, you could use the plural possessive of the last name (assuming Kerri and children all share the same last name). Example:
      “The Hansons’ Kitchen.” See our Rules for Apostrophes.

  23. v.smith says:

    Does it matter if the proper noun is part of a title such as “John Williams’ Black History Program”? Some people are leaving the apostrophe off. Which is correct when the name attached is to honor the person, not that the person created it the object.

  24. Ruthanne says:

    How do you use an apostrophe if you’re saying, “The party is at the Johnsons”?

  25. Anna says:

    When I want to write “That book belongs to Felix” as possesive, do I write “Felix’s book” or something different?

    • Our Rule 1a of Apostrophes says, “Use the apostrophe to show possession. To show possession with a singular noun, add an apostrophe plus the letter s.” Therefore, “Felix’s book” is correct.

    • Ashenafi says:

      What’s Williams is belongs to Williams.
      How can I construct a possessive statement?

      • We are unsure what you are asking, so we will offer two possibilities to apply to a single individual:
        If it belongs to William, then it’s William’s. The name William is generally a first name.
        If it belongs to Williams, then it’s Williams’ (or Williams’s). The name Williams is generally a last name.

  26. Sharon says:

    Do you say :
    Moedi Consulting Engineers (Pty) Ltd were appointed on the project OR
    Moedi Consulting Engineers (Pty) Ltd was appointed on the project

    What is the correct usage for proper nouns? Is it are or is, were or was?

  27. Corey Thiel says:

    I have 2 questions. The first one has been driving me crazy for a couple years. I work in admin at my school and we have a Parent’s Club. Or is it the Parents’ Club? I know it’s plural, but for some reason the former looks better to me. How about Grandparent’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or Grandparents Day? I send out newsletters to all of the parents and worry I look foolish! It’s so hard to find a clear answer online. I had my daughter ask her high school English teacher and she told her that either was correct. I’m not sure I trust that.

  28. Diane St Angelo says:

    To understand John’s (the unknown god’s) story, u must first know his past with Linda.

    Is the above sentence grammatically correct? With the apostrophe in John and god? Or should it be in just 1? Help!

    • With the exception of “u,” your sentence is grammatically correct. However, we suggest rewording the sentence to avoid the awkward possessives.
      To understand the story of John (the unknown god), you must first know his past with Linda.

  29. Kristin Rabea says:

    I read through everything, and my question isn’t asked. My daughter’s name is Alexis. I was taught that to show possession of a proper noun that already ends with an s, it is Alexis’. How would you write more than one person named Alexis? She said it’s Alexises. That doesn’t look right to me. Please help us.

    • As mentioned in the fifth paragraph of the article, “All names ending in s become plural by adding es.” Therefore, the plural of Alexis is Alexises. Our post Apostrophes with Words Ending in s explains that there are two acceptable ways to show possession of a proper noun that ends in s. Some writers and editors add only an apostrophe to all nouns ending in s, and some add an apostrophe + s to every proper noun. Therefore, Alexis’ and Alexis’s are both acceptable. We favor Alexis’s because that’s how we would pronounce it.

  30. Emma says:

    How would I punctuate the following:
    The Connors Adventures
    (Family with the surname Connor)
    Many thanks.

  31. Erik says:

    There is a hardware store named Lowe’s. Since the proper noun of the store name contains the possessive already, if one were to describe something possessed by that store, how would it be written? Additionally, if there were more than one Lowe’s store of whom we need to describe possession, what is the plural possessive of Lowe’s?

    • says:

      Writing a word with two apostrophes is overly slavish to the rules and extremely awkward. Depending on the sentence, we think writing the company name Lowe’s could be acceptable; however, a better option might be to rearrange the phrase to avoid using the possessive form.

  32. Ryan says:

    For a name sign with the last name of Stang, what is the correct punctuation?

    The Stang’s est. 2021
    The Stangs est. 2021

    Thank you for the help!

  33. M.D. says:

    What would be the plural possessive form of the surname Davies?

    Are both correct?

    Thank you!

  34. tim bergin says:

    “My husband Carlos’ last chemo.” The writer is the wife of Carlos, and she is talking about her husband’s final chemo treatment. Do I write “My husband Carloses’ last chemo”? This looks really weird. Or do I write “Carlos’ ” or “Carlos’s”?

  35. CRAIG H SHOLL says:

    In a title of a book such as, “No Gun’s in Little Cavern,” does the apostrophe have to be denoted from “Gun’s” or can it stay/is it optional? Little Cavern is a place.

    • says:

      Our Rule 2b. of Apostrophes says, “Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.” Therefore, we see no reason to use an apostrophe in the plural noun “Guns.”

  36. Lena says:

    I found an assignment practicing the apostrophe online and there is a phrase I was uncertain of how to interpret. I would like to know which of these sentences is correct:
    There is no sense in John’s working in heat (this is what the key said, is the ‘s a short form for is?)
    There is no sense in John working in heat (this is how I would say it, as a sentence shortening)

    • says:

      Our post Expressing Possession of Gerunds discusses this subject. Using a possessive noun or pronoun to describe an action (gerund) is the proper formal usage. Therefore, the answer key used the possessive noun “John’s” with the gerund “working.” As the post states, “On occasion, we may wish to place greater emphasis on the actor instead of the action. In this case, we would not use a possessive noun or pronoun with a gerund; rather, we would use a non-possessive noun or an objective pronoun.” That seems to be the case with your alternative sentence.

  37. Bryan says:

    I take issue with the plural form of the Four Seasons. It is a singular noun, there is only one Four Seasons Hotel in NYC. Even though the word “Seasons” is plural, and even though it is included in the proper noun “Four Seasons,” the proper noun is still singular. It therefore seems that the possessive form should follow the rules of other singular nouns. Shouldn’t the possessive therefore be Four Seasons’s? Why are we applying a rule for plural nouns to a singular noun?

    Another example would be the USA. It is a single, indivisible country. It is a singular noun. Therefore it should follow that one simply adds ‘s to form the possessive: USA’s. One wouldn’t write USAs’. But then, let’s look at the abbreviation US (or U.S.). I have seen several websites state, without explanation, that the US is a plural noun because it ends in the word “States,” and therefore the way to form the possessive is to add an apostrophe to the end: US’ (or even worse U.S’–note the dropped period). It seems to me that the possessive form of US should follow the same rules as USA (they are the same thing after all), so the possessive of US should be US’s.

    • says:

      Our post Apostrophes with Names Ending in s, ch, or z says, “Rule: To show singular possession of a name ending in s or z, some writers add just an apostrophe. Others also add another s. See Rules 1b and 1c of Apostrophes for more discussion.” Since “Four Seasons” is a singular name ending in s, we chose to add just an apostrophe. Writing “Four Seasons’s” is also grammatically correct.

      We would write the possessive of the abbreviation “U.S.” as “U.S.’s.”

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *