Apostrophe Catastrophe (Part Two)

You didn’t realize it at the time, but last week was part I of apostrophes, and today is part II. Today’s topic is tough apostrophe issues.

How do You Make Singular Words Ending in S Possessive?

I said it in the last episode about apostrophes, and I’ll say it again: there are some confusing situations when it comes to apostrophes. For example, Christine, from Portland, Oregon; Judy from Traverse City, Michigan; Katy from Australia; Kristi from Washington, D.C.; and Rick from Las Vegas, Nevada, all asked how to make a singular word that ends in S possessive.

I know that this is a raging debate even at the highest levels of government because Tracey from Mountain View, California, and a listener named Arman both sent me a funny article a while ago describing U.S. Supreme Court squabbles over making the word “Kansas” possessive. Words such as “Kansas” that end with an S can be stumpers when it comes to apostrophes.

Is it “Kansas’s statute” with an apostrophe-S or “Kansas’ statute” with just an apostrophe at the end? 

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and left off the extra S, referring to “Kansas’ statute” with just an apostrophe at the end, whereas Justice David Souter wrote the dissenting opinion and used a double S at the end of “Kansas,” writing about “Kansas’s statute” with an apostrophe before the final S.

So who’s right? Well, they’re both right, and they really should have a Supreme Court style guide so their writing is consistent. They’re both right because this isn’t a rule; it’s a style choice. Justice Thomas, whose name ends with an S, seems to favor AP style, which recommends leaving off the extra S. 

AP style is Kansas’ 

Chicago Manual of Style Apostrophe Rules

Justice Souter seems to prefer the recommendations of The Chicago Manual of Style, which says to add the apostrophe-S to almost all singular nouns and names that end with S. 

Chicago style is Kansas’s

Chicago Manual of Style Apostrophe Exceptions

Chicago used to make exceptions for names with two or more syllables that end in an “eez” sound and nouns or names that end with an

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  • August 12, 2019