The boss’ boss, or the boss’s boss? The bosses’ boss, or the bosses’s boss? Ah, I’m confused.

Back in the days when I first learnt it (12-13 years ago?), I was taught to always drop the S after an apostrophe whenever I made a noun ending in S possessive. So, from what I learnt, the boss’s boss and the bosses’s boss are not correct. I continued to do the supposedly right way for the next 12-3 years, obviously, correcting people who added the supposedly extra S after a noun ending in S whenever possible; until today. Somehow, I had doubts.

I went to my trusty 14-year-old Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (the older the dictionary the better, no?), and it told me that when the noun ending in S is singular, both and ’s are acceptable. But when the noun is a plural ending in S, you only use the apostrophe without the S. Right, so the boss’ boss, the boss’s boss, and the bosses’ boss are all correct.

Then, I came across a few websites, that all seemed to suggest, rather confidently, that you always use ‘s when the noun is singular, and drop the S for possessive plurals ending in S. One even stated that the boss’ boss (converted to the example of my case) is incorrect.

Grrreat. Now which one should I stick to?






4 responses to “Apostrophe-Essness”

  1. zeldazeldalam Avatar

    Just as Gauss’ Law and Gauss’s Law. Different spelling and pronunciation, but are both accepted.

  2. Ty Avatar

    Oh my. I am definitely even more confused now. Good luck with that muddle.

  3. Shae Avatar

    I too went along in blissful “drop the last s” ignorance until my most recent copy editing course. Here’s the lowdown from the Copy Editor’s Handbook for Newspapers, by Anthony Fellow and Thomas Clanin.

    “Most singular nouns are made possessive by adding an -‘s to the end of singular nouns (writer’s manuscript). Most plural nouns are made possessive by adding an -‘ (writers’ manuscripts) to the end of plural nouns. However:

    (1)add -‘s to singular common nouns ending in /s/ unless the next word begins with an /s/: the witness’s answer vs. the witness’ story.

    (2)add only an apostrophe to nouns plural in form and singular in meaning: measles’ effects, the United States’ wealth

    (3)treat nouns the same in singular and plural if the meaning is singular: one corps’ location, the lone moose’s antlers

    (4)use only an apostrophe for singular proper names ending in an /s/: Jesus’ life, John Foster Dulles’ biographer

    (5)for compound words, add -‘s to the word closest to the object possessed: the major general’s decision, the major generals’ decisions

    (6)to show individual possession, make each noun possessive: These are John’s and Jane’s bikes.

    (7)to show joint possession, make only the last noun possessive: This is John and Jane’s bike.

    (8)use an apostrophe if /s/ is used in an organization’s name: Actor’s Equity, Ladies’ Home Journal

    (9)do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in /s/ when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense (as an adjective): citizens band radio, an Angels infielder, a teachers college, a writers guide, a Teamsters request

    TIP: the apostrophe usually is not used if “for” or “by” rather than “of” would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters

    So those’re the rules, apparently. Not that I understand them all, but there you go. smile

    1. Vickie Avatar

      Wow! Thanks, Shae. (Now, let me just re-read the thing 10 more times and see if I’d get it.) 0.0

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