Rantings of a sub-editor

March 15, 2010

James’s apostrophe

Filed under: James's apostrophe,punctuation — substuff @ 3:57 pm
Tags: ,

Once upon a wine-fuelled Friday night, I was called on to settle an old score between two friends. One, let’s call him Dave, insisted that James’s name, in the possessive, should be spelt exactly thus. James, on the other hand, maintained that he needed no s and that the apostrophe should stand alone: James’.

I said that I thought it went on pronunciation: so in this case, James’s, but in the case of a name where the extra ‘iz’ is not pronounced (frustratingly I couldn’t think of a good example), the final s would be omitted. But then I got slightly confused because I knew there was some different rule about Jesus, which I couldn’t put my finger on.

Today, I have gone to the authorities and I can declare Dave victorious.

Fowler’s says:

Use ‘s for the possessive case in English names and surnames whenever possible; ie in all monosyllables and disyllables, and in longer words accented on the penult, as Burns’s, Charles’s, Cousins’s, Dickens’s, Hicks’s, St James’s Square, Thomas’s, Zacharius’s. It is customary, however, to omit the ‘s when the last syllable of the name is pronounced /-IZ/, as in Bridges’, Moses’. Jesus’ is also an acceptable liturgical archaism.

The Guardian’s style guide says, succinctly:

Words ending in -s use use -s’s (Dickens’s house): for plurals, use -s’.

And The Times’s (yes, s’s) says:

With proper names/nouns ending in s that are singular, follow the rule of writing what is voiced, eg, Keats’s poetry, Sobers’s batting, The Times’s style (or Times style); and with names where the final “s” is soft, use the “s” apostrophe, eg, Rabelais’ writings, Delors’ presidency; plurals follow normal form, as Lehman Brothers’ loss etc
Note that with Greek names of more than one syllable that end in “s”, generally do not use the apostrophe “s”, eg, Aristophanes’ plays, Achilles’ heel, Socrates’ life, Archimedes’ principle; but note Jesus’s (not Jesus’) parables.

Jesus, I note, is torn. He gets away with no s in Fowler’s, but is commanded to take one by The Times. James, however, is well and truly decided. Take your apostrophe and your s, sir – and we shall have no head-kicking* in response, thank you very much.

*Upon first meeting me, James kicked me in the head, allegedly by accident. I’m sure he’s not the only one to have felt the urge.

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