The pedant in me

It's the weekend, but the boss and I have traded several emails today about whether to go with Raffles's or Raffles' to mark the singular possessive case. As with other perennial dilemmas such as whether one sits side-by-side or facing one's dining partner, or whether one squeeezes toothpaste from the bottom of the tube or from the middle, there is no right answer (even though some people believe that there is and will argue it to their bitter eaten-shot-and-left end). The important thing --- for credible writers or editors, anyway --- is simply to be consistent.

At any rate, here's the evidence.

In favour of the apostrophe-and-s: New Hart's Rules (2005 edition)(aka the bible of Oxford University Press).
An apostrophe and s are generally used with personal names ending in an s, x or z sound: Charles's, Dickens's, Marx's, Bridget Jones's Diary

But an apostrophe alone may be used in cases where an additional s would cause difficulty in punctuation, particularly after longer names that are not accented on the last or penultimate syllable: Nicholas' or Nicholas's, Lord Williams's School

Jesus's is the usual non-liturgical use; Jesus' is an accepted archaism.

It is traditional to use an apostrophe alone after classical names ending in s or es: Euripides', Herodotus', Mars', Erasmus'

The style should be followed for longer names; with short names the alternative Zeus's is permissible.
In favour of the apostrophe only, without an s: the AP Stylebook (aka the bible of American journalists).
SINGULAR PROPER NAMES ENDING IN S: Use only an apostrophe: Achilles’ heel, Agnes’ book, Ceres’ rites, Descartes’ theories, Dickens’ novels, Euripides’ dramas, Hercules’ labors, Jesus’ life, Jules’ seat, Kansas’ schools, Moses’ law, Socrates’ life, Tennessee Williams’ plays, Xerxes’ armies.
And just for fun, because this was my rule-of-thumb because I became a professional writer/editor, here's Sars's (notice the apostrophe-and-s there) take on it, from "Sincerely Your's" at Tomato Nation:
And when you use an apostrophe to denote a possessive with a name or place that ends in "S," you need to add another "S," unless it's a plural ("the Joneses' house"). "The princess's car." "Cletus's truck." The only names that don't take another "S" at the end: Jesus and Moses. Don't question it. Just learn it.
For the record, the boss is making an executive decision to go with Raffles', while I will continue to rally for the cause of Raffles's on my own time.

Thus endeth the lesson.


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At 9/09/2006 6:47 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

but "raffles's" looks so unwieldy... and too obvious. it's pronounced like that, but it doesn't have to look like it, right? i automatically add the plural sound to words even when it's s-apostrophe anyway, e.g. charles' is pronounced charles-es.

and, just a general question, do most singaporean writers adopt british or american style and spelling rules?

At 9/09/2006 11:03 pm , Blogger Ondine said...

I spent an extremely painful hour trying to explain to a kid, through IM how to use the apostrophe. At the end of it, I gave up and told him, if something ended with "s" and one wanted to show possession, just stick the apostrophe. My rule of thumb is these kids need to learn the general rule first and then when they're cleverer, I can teach them the conditions where it's different.

At 9/09/2006 11:22 pm , Blogger Tym said...

ejl > Looking unwieldy has never been a criterion for spelling now, has it? ;) Anyway, most Singapore publications that are conscious of such things follow British spelling and style. However, most people who use Microsoft Word without setting the language preferences end up inadvertently adopting American spelling (it's truly a small yet powerfully insidious bit of cultural imperialism, let me tell you). I'm not sure that the layman is aware of the little differences ...

Ondine > Agreed: rule of thumb first, exceptions later. Otherwise no one would ever make sense of English with its plural "sheep" and the spelling of "seize" (so much for the "i-before-e-except-after-c rule) and so on.

At 9/10/2006 12:33 am , Blogger Kiv said...

oh...all this while I thought if the word ended with a 's', the thing to do is to just add an apostrophe. Like these words (ending with 's') are special.
Now I know.

At 9/10/2006 1:08 am , Blogger wahj said...

I've always gone with the 's'-apostrophe rule, because it offers a consistent solution to the problem. The English language has always been a mix of rules and exceptions, but the current situation has too many exceptions, and not enough rules.

At 9/10/2006 11:04 am , Blogger Tym said...

Just to clarify: the apostrophe issue I discuss in this blog post pertains to the possessive case for singular proper names only. It's straightforward enough to keep to the rule of adding an apostrophe for plural nouns that end in s.

The usefulness of the apostrophe-and-s for proper names is to distinguish between singular and plural proper nouns, I suppose? E.g. Charles's tradition vs. the Charles' tradition, or for a more contemporary example, Jimmy Smits's career vs. the Smits' plans.

At 9/12/2006 2:35 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess you can tell your boss in London the signs say St James's.

At 9/12/2006 5:14 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's not an American thing to go with Raffles' apostrophe. (TYM stop telling fibs to try and bolster your cause.)

Fowler's Modern English Usage says go with s' alone if the name ends in an 'iz' sound. Nice and simple ... not a rule just a guideline ... seems to make sense, doesn't it?

(And Henry Watson Fowler was not an AMERICAN).

At 9/18/2006 6:25 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad my parents didn't name me Joys. ;)

This is a bit of an aside, but reading this post brought to mind an incident with my then-four-year-old nephew (or second cousin, if we're being pedantic). My cousin had told him, "We're going to Aunty Joyce's house later." And the kid look bewildered and said, "But I only have one Aunty Joyce."


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