Apostrophes and words ending in ‘s’

Posted on 19 August 2015 by Lucy Gregory

 
I get questions all the time on apostrophes and words ending in s, for very good reason.

First, every writing authority has slightly different advice. Second, few of them cover the subject in its entirety. Finally, the advice is based on pronunciation – which is odd for a grammar topic.

Not helpful.

So I’ve looked through several resources and pulled together the advice I think makes the most sense and is easy to apply. If you want to look into this further (maybe you’re having a slow day at work), the resources I’ve used are Fowler’s Modern English Usage, New Hart’s Rules, the Guardian style guide, The Economist style guide and Grammar Monster.

Singular words ending in ‘s’

Generally, you need to add an apostrophe and a second s.

His boss’s desk

The press’s behaviour

My cactus’s spikes

There aren’t actually that many singular nouns ending in s.
 

Plural words ending in ‘s’

Most plural words in English end in s. You simply put an apostrophe after the final s of the word.

Directors’ meeting

Executive members’ club

Teachers’ strike

Three weeks’ time

25 years’ experience

So far, so good. Now it gets fiddly.
 

Singular names ending in ‘s’

Individuals and most organisations are treated as singular. For singular names ending in s, add an apostrophe and a second s.

James’s office

Nicholas’s coffee

Ms Jones’s project

Charles Dickens’s writing

However, if adding a second s after the apostrophe creates a tongue twister or sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, leave it off. Try saying the phrases below with a second s after the apostrophe and you’ll realise why.

Linklaters’ lawyers

Barclays’ shareholders

Selfridges’ sale

Mr Bridges’ company

 

Plural names ending in ‘s’

Plural name possessives don’t come up that often. Treat them like normal plurals – with an apostrophe but no second s.

The Joneses’ house
(This is a house belonging to more than one Jones.)

The Cayman Islands’ borders
(The Cayman Islands are plural for this purpose, even if you would treat them as a singular entity for other purposes. The sames applies to the United States, the Netherlands and the Philippines, among others.)

The United Nations’ latest resolution
(The United Nations is treated as plural for apostrophe purposes.)

 

Organisations that make life difficult and upset language pedants

Currys, Barclays Bank, Citizens Advice Bureau and Harrods have no apostrophe before s.

St Thomas’ Hospital has an apostrophe but no s.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has an apostrophe and no second s, as you would expect, but is shortened to Teachers’, which looks weird in running text.

Earl’s Court tube station has an apostrophe before s.

Earls Court Exhibition Centre has no apostrophe before s.

Sainsbury’s has an apostrophe before s.

Morrisons has no apostrophe before s.

Tesco has no apostrophe and no s.