when to add 's

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Possessives of nouns and proper names are made by adding 's:

The practitioner's body is being used by the spirit.
Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin's many anti-social traits that mark him as a manipulative psychopathic personality.

Possessives of plural proper names are made by adding just an apostrophe:

the Sumerians' belief that all diseases of the body and mind were caused by sickness demons
the Blairs' daughter

But then it gets kind of weird.

Some singular proper names--like the surname Jones--end in an s or z sound. Many Editors follow the rule that if the word ends in an s sound, the possessive is made by adding 's--"Karl Hess's sweet new ride"--and if it ends in a z sound, you add just the apostrophe--"Geoff Johns' latest comic."

Our style guide, however, notes that, "Adding -'s to all such names, without regard for the pronunciation of the resulting word, is more common than just adding the apostrophe."

But there are exceptions.

Classical and biblical names of two or more syllables and ending in either s or es are generally made possessive by adding just an apostrophe.

Aristophones' Thesmophoria
Tiberius' vices

However, if the name is only one syllable, you're supposed to add 's

Mars's war chariot

By the way, the possessive form of Jesus and Moses is always formed with just the apostrophe.

Finally, names ending in a silent s, z, or x are supposed to take the 's

Saint-Saëns's Le Carnaval des Animaux
Le Carnaval des Animaux's Saint-Saëns

And if you noticed in that last example, the work Le Carnaval des Animaux is italicized, but the 's isn't.