A Very Practical, Non-Spiritual Question

Since I write a lot with blogging, as well as preparation for sermons and teaching material, I have had a nagging question for quite a while now. It’s one I should have nailed in junior high, but for the life of me, I cannot remember the answer to this question.

It is not life-changing by any means. And no, because I should have had this answered in junior high, it has nothing to do with body anatomy. But, for me, it is important issue because it is very practical with regards to writing.

I want to know how to properly use an apostrophe in possessive and plural situations. I cannot remember at all. So, for example, I list a few instances that would leave me asking questions:

  • Is it Jesus’ hand or Jesus’s hand? Here, I am not sure.
  • Is it Jesus’ hands or Jesus’s hands? Here I am not sure.
  • Is it Scott’s book and Scott’s books? Here, I am pretty sure both are acceptable.
  • Is it the cat’s (singular) tail and the cats’ (plural) tails? Here, I am also quite unsure.

So I think the problem for me arises in two situations:

  1. When the possessive noun (whether generic or proper) ends with an ‘s’, like with my first two examples above.
  2. When the possessive noun (whether generic or proper) is plural, like in my last example above.

Thanks for any practical, wise, and maybe even spiritual, insight.

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4 thoughts on “A Very Practical, Non-Spiritual Question

  1. I once helped proofread an author’s NT translation, and when I pointed out some of these missing or incorrect apostrophes, he sent me this:

    My old publishing house, Sheffield Academic Press, was very conservative, and only allowed s’ for Jesus and Moses and names ending with the sound “izz” or “eez.”

    The following is from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe#Singular_nouns_ending_with_an_.22s.22_or_.22z.22_sound
    Singular nouns ending with an “s” or “z” sound

    This subsection deals with singular nouns pronounced with a sibilant sound at the end: /s/ or /z/. The spelling of these ends with -s, -se, -z, -ze, -ce, -x, or -xe.

    Many respected sources have required that practically all singular nouns, including those ending with a sibilant sound, have possessive forms with an extra s after the apostrophe. Examples include the Modern Language Association and The Economist.[11] Such sources would demand possessive singulars like these: Senator Jones’s umbrella; Mephistopheles’s cat. On the other hand, some modern writers omit the extra s in all cases, and Chicago Manual of Style allows this as an “alternative practice”.[12] Generally, Chicago Manual of Style is in line with the majority of current guides, and recommends the traditional practice but provides for several exceptions to accommodate spoken usage, including the omission of the extra s after a polysyllabic word ending in a sibilant.[13] Rules that modify or extend the standard principle have included the following:

    If the singular possessive is difficult or awkward to pronounce with an added sibilant, do not add an extra s; these exceptions are supported by The Guardian,[14] Emory University’s writing center,[15] and The American Heritage Book of English Usage.[16] Such sources permit possessive singulars like these: Socrates’ later suggestion; James’s house, or James’ house, depending on which pronunciation is intended.

    Classical, biblical, and similar names ending in a sibilant, especially if they are polysyllabic, do not take an added s in the possessive; among sources giving exceptions of this kind are The Times[17] and The Elements of Style, which make general stipulations, and Vanderbilt University,[18] which mentions only Moses and Jesus. As a particular case, Jesus’ is very commonly written instead of Jesus’s – even by people who would otherwise add ‘s in, for example, James’s or Chris’s. Jesus’ is referred to as “an accepted liturgical archaism” in Hart’s Rules.

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