CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

Making possessives

Due to the increase of content worldwide, thanks to the Internet and availability of technology, there’s that much more for us grammar nerds to whine about. The position of the possessive apostrophe is one of my pet hates.

Adding possession to a singular noun should look like this:

This is George’s pencil case.

The table’s legs are all broken.

Our orange tree’s branches grow in strange angles.

I think we all get that, but the trouble begins when singular nouns end in an ‘s’. There are two ways in which possession can be expressed. The first two examples are my personal preference.

The class’ attitude to this subject is disgraceful.

The bus’ wheels were all flat.

The class’s attitude to this subject is disgraceful.

The bus’s wheels were all flat.

Both are accepted as correct. If your workplace has a certain standard, it is best to adhere to it. In your personal writing sphere, however, you can choose whichever method you prefer so long as you stick to it.

Moving on to proper nouns, the same two methods can be applied, though I prefer the first two, as before.

This is Chris’ computer.

Los Angeles’ population is more than I thought.

This is Chris’s computer.

Los Angeles’s population is more than I thought.

Now, while you can adopt the first or second method, some companies (particularly in the media) have a mixed approach, adding an ‘s’ to common nouns, while leaving them off for proper nouns. For example:

The bus’s wheels were all flat.

Los Angeles’ population is more than I thought.

There is no correct answer to all of this but one rule stands firm underneath them all—consistency. Whichever approach you adopt, make sure you use it 100% of the time.

When tackling plural nouns, first follow the noun’s pluralisation rule before adding on the apostrophe and ‘s’ to indicate possession. For example:

The monkeys’ dinner was placed before them on a silver platter.

All went well on the boys’ night out.

The Great Pyramids’ popularity will never fade.

The Sealeys’ house went under auction last week. (No, not really.)

Finally, when a name ends in an ‘s’ already, such as Jones or Fitzsimmons, follow the above rule and pluralise before adding the possessive.

‘The Joneses’ reputation was severely damaged today,’ the pompous woman declared.

The Fitzsimmonses’ car is a deep blue colour.

Looking at the above two examples, were you of the add an ‘s’ no matter what persuasion, your possessives would end up looking very long and complicated, like this:

Joneses’s

Fitzsimmonses’s

So while these two are not technically wrong, per se, they don’t look very attractive.

I had a rant about the lack of possessive apostrophes in place names here, if you’re brave enough to read!

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