Part of the confusion stems from a gray area around the use of the apostrophe to indicate the possessive form of some nouns. The larger portion of that confusion attends nouns in the plural form. We’ll save that topic for a future writing tip. Today, we’ll look at the use of apostrophes to indicate possession with singular nouns.
When in comes to forming the possessive form of singular nouns, the basic rule is to add ’s always, even if the singular noun ends in s. That seems pretty simple. And it is.
The confusion comes when encountering proper nouns which end in s. Proper nouns are nouns which always appear capitalized — essentially names. Multiple conventions exist for treating these cases. As no one convention is absolutely right while all others are absolutely wrong, the best advice is to adopt one approach and be consistent.
With that in mind, here’s a summary of the main contenders:
- Some writers choose without exception to place ’s after any singular noun to form the possessive. This option is the simplest approach as there are no exceptions. It is also the one that I recommend. No exceptions usually equates to fewer mistakes.
- Some writers, particularly involved with periodicals like magazines and newspapers, use just ’ to form the possessive of singular proper nouns ending in s and ’s for all other singular nouns. This option appears a bit more flexible than the first, but I would recommend this option only if the organization for whom you are writing has adopted it as their expected convention. As an editor, I would respect that convention where adopted. Otherwise, I would recommend using ‘s without exception.
- Some writers elect to write the possessive form according to how it sounds when spoken. While acceptable in some circles, I recommend against this convention if for no other reason than intellectual consistency. As much as I have and will extol the need to distinguish between spoken English and written English in order to avoid many other writing errors, I must be consistent here and discourage the use of how words sound to determine correct punctuation.
Some writers and editors will disagree with my choice, and that’s fine. As I said before, there is hard and fast rule here. I just think that it is simpler to avoid exceptions. For example, consider the following sentence:
Just be aware of the options and consistent with whichever option you choose. That’s why I like having no exceptions here; it’s easier to be consistent.
As I said at the start, we’ll tackle forming the possessive form of plural nouns in the future post. But when it comes to forming the possessive form of singular nouns, I recommend adding ’s to the end, whether or not the noun ends in s and whether or not the noun is proper.