Sunday, March 23, 2008

Apostrophes and the S

A question was recently raised on a forum that I frequent about apostrophe use. One poster contended that you use 's at the end of singular nouns except for characters in mythology. Thus Achilles' heel is correct but James' book is not.

I'd never heard such a thing before, and went to take a look. I found Herff Jones and his contention that proper nouns ending in “s” need only the apostrophe. Then I found the Page of Achilles, which offers a more thorough consideration of the matter.

As in most rules, I cannot understand why you have to consider the special cases to decide whether a rule applies (hence my support of the Oxford comma). If single nouns require an 's to indicate possession, them that's what they should get.

How people subsequently pronounce the word does not fall under my consideration when writing. Regardless of their oral stumbling, at least they can clearly understand what I mean. Apparently, I'm half right.

Ped almost agreed with me on his Telegraph blog post on apostrophes. There was interesting discussion on that post, as well. I get to trump that with the agreement of William Safire and The New York Times.

Out of gratitude, I'm skipping the quibble with Mr. Safire adding a possessive to the end of the Court of Saint James. Well, I'm not including it here. It does raise the question of indicating possession and how to decide whether it's needed. Is it a hard day's night? Shall I be sentenced to five years' hard labor? I'll reveal all in my next post.