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Apostrophes: Dueling Rules
There are various guidelines for apostrophes, but only three rules that everyone agrees on: To show possession for a noun that is singular and does not end
in s, add ’s (Joe’s lunch). If the noun is plural but does not end in s, add ’s (the people’s choice). If the noun is plural and ends in s, add just an
apostrophe (the leaves’ bright colors).
Beyond these, the experts are at odds. For instance, how should we write the possessive of singular proper nouns ending in s? The two foremost
American authorities on written English, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and The Associated Press Stylebook (AP),
have irreconcilable policies. AP prefers adding only an apostrophe (Charles’ book), whereas CMOS recommends adding ’s (Charles’s book). Take your pick.
Here are some other apostrophe debates …
• CMOS adds just an apostrophe when a noun ending in s is the same whether singular or plural. The guidebook offers three examples: politics’ true meaning, economics’ forerunners, and this species’ first record. The GrammarBook.com staff agrees with politics’ and economics’, but prefers this species’s, because in normal English usage, species is just as likely to be
singular as it is to be plural—one often hears “a species,” but who says “a politics” or “an economics”?
• With nouns ending in s, writes English scholar Roy H. Copperud, there are editors whose choice of either ’s or a
lone apostrophe is based on such esoteric criteria as how many syllables are in the word; whether the accent falls on the last syllable; and whether the
last syllable begins, ends, or both begins and ends with an s sound. If you’re shaking your head, you’re not alone.
• Many who generally add ’s to common and proper nouns ending in s make one huge exception: they drop the added s if
pronouncing it would be awkward or uncomfortable. For example, since most people would not pronounce an s added to the possessive form of Mr. Hastings, these writers and editors prefer Mr. Hastings’ pen, not Hastings’s. And since most people would likely pronounce an added s if the pen belonged to Mrs. Jones, it should be Mrs. Jones’s pen, rather than Jones’.
It should be noted that CMOS does not concur, and prescribes ’s with no exceptions (other than the aforementioned politics, economics, etc.). We agree, because we do not assume that all careful speakers pronounce words the same. To what extent should the editing of written English be based on ease of pronunciation? That is a discussion worth having. But such a method does not account for vast differences in articulation within the diverse company of literate speakers of English worldwide.
Besides, anytime you don’t like the look or sound of a sentence, the easy way out is a rewrite. As CMOS points out, writing the first record of this species sidesteps the whole species’ vs. species’s predicament.
And when it comes to apostrophe rules, we see little to be gained from so many exotic exceptions and qualifications.
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Changes Have Begun on Our GrammarBook.com Website
We want to alert all our newsletter readers and visitors to our website that we have begun updating the English Rules section of GrammarBook.com to reflect the contents of the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. So far, all of the Grammar Rules have been updated. The remaining revisions will take place over the next couple of months.
We researched the leading reference books on American English grammar and punctuation including The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Fowler's Modern English Usage, Bernstein's The Careful Writer, and many others. As before, we will provide rules, guidance, and examples based on areas of general agreement among these authorities. Where the authorities differ, we will emphasize guidance and provide options to follow based on your purpose in writing, with this general advice: be consistent.
Following are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
1. Avoid mispellings.
2. Check to see if you any words out.
3. One word sentences? Eliminate.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.