Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Possessive Case

This has come up several times over the past week, so I thought I would post a few refresher rules on possessive case.

Possessive Case, Nouns

When the noun does not end in an s, add and apostrophe and an s.
Mike’s Corvette

When the noun ends in an s, add only an apostrophe.
Sailors’ delight

This rule does not distinguish between singular and plural nouns. This rule also applies to nouns used as possessive adjectives (five dollars’ worth of gas).

Possessive Case, Pronouns

Personal pronouns do not take an apostrophe. These nouns include his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs and whose.
Indefinite pronouns take an apostrophe and an s.
Everybody’s favorite story

Possessive Case, Compounds

In hyphenated words, names of organizations consisting of more than one word, and words indicating joint possession, only the last word takes the possessive form. The form of the possessive follows the rules for nouns in the possessive case.

* Ex-husband’s habits (hyphenated)
* Smith and Wesson’s finest model (organization, singular)
* Parker Brothers’ product line (organization, plural)
* Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (joint possession)

Exception: In the case of joint possession, when the first part of the pair is a noun and the final part is a pronoun in the possessive case, then the noun follows the rule for nouns in the possessive case.

* Robert’s and my anniversary

But note: this only applies to joint possession, that is, things owned in common. When two or more people possess something individually, each of their names is possessive in form.

* Shaq’s and Kobe’s championship rings (Each player has his own ring. They do not share a single ring in joint possession.)

This is just one of those things you have to learn if you want to be one of the cool kids.



Jordan said...

Don't forget everyone's favorite possessive pronoun: mines.

(Oh man, that takes me back to high school.)

John H said...

What about Jesus? I remember reading somewhere that because of who he was, he got special treatment, or something?

James Pray said...

According to Strunk & White, singular nouns ending in -s still get a 's (walrus's, James's, etc), except for select names (mostly Biblical, I think?) like Moses and Jesus, which should just get the '. Other grammar places I've seen say the same as this blog post. I don't know that either one is wrong, but the 's on -s words is frowned on hard by some people, seems like. As long as you are consistent, I don't think you'll get killed by an editor, though.

Edittorrent said...

Yes, Kiolia, there is some disagreement on that particular point. AP disagrees with Strunk and White, and I tend to side with AP. But I framed the rule this way mainly because it's easier to remember it if you look at the last letter without reference to its singular or plural status.

I know of no special rule for Jesus. Jesus is specifically referenced in AP: Jesus' life.


James Pray said...

I went and dug up my S&W to check, and this is on page one ... heh. S&W says that "ancient proper nouns" ending in -s only get the apostrophe, and the examples it gives are Jesus and Isis.

I think framing the rule that way, Theresa, is probably the best justification I've heard for one or the other. It is slightly easier than getting to ignore the final consonant as per S&W's guidance.

Laura K. Curtis said...

And then there's whose...

Leona said...

You the bomb :D

I asked about boss on twitter and received two replies-
boss's house and boss' house- for the singular possessive.

UGH. I'm one of the ones that finally took liberty and asked Theresa. I'm doing NaNo, but having trouble turning the inner editor off for this one! I think it's because I've worked on this story on and off for a year, scrapping most of it. (Didn't have too much choice, my laptop was stolen/lost.)

At least there will be less editing later...

*goes off screaming about word counts*

70k+ good word count for paranormal romance, right? RIGHT?

Word verification=zinub

Possible new name for a sect of demons, hmmm?

Gayle Carline said...

I wonder if Jesus feels badly about not having any special rule.

And then there's "its"...

Julie Harrington said...

That whole s's thing just looks weird to me. When I was in school (many moons ago) it was always: If it ends in S it gets just the apostrophe. This new trend in publishing of S'S messes with my brain.


Adrienne Giordano said...

Great post! Thanks for the refresher.

Carol Riggs said...

Great post! I always see the it's and its confusion when I critique other writers' manuscripts. Another one I see is the confusion between your and you're. I try to tell the writers the apostrophe is there to show that the letter A is missing, and stands for YOU ARE, to try to help clarify it in their minds.

Kristin Daniels said...

This post came at the perfect time for me, Theresa. I named my new hero Marcus, and I have to admit that I wasn't sure which way to go with the apostrophe. Thanks!

Adrian said...

More questions:

1. "The attorneys general's case" or "the attorneys' general case" (assuming joint possession.)

2. "My brothers-in-law's wives" or "My brothers'-in-law wives"?

3. If a word or name ends in a z, isn't it treated as though it ends in s? "Menendez's house" or "Menendez' house"?

Wendi said...

I understand that normally the possessive of "it" would be "its" (it's being a contraction of "it is".) But, in my novel, I'm using "It" instead of a name for an evil spirit. If the spirit's name was Joe, it would be Joe's, so would possessive continue to be "Its" or would it be "It's"?

Edittorrent said...

Wendi, I would follow the standard rule. Otherwise, people will be confused and will think there's an error in the text.