Possessive Form of Singular Nouns Ending with S

Many people struggle with the possessive case of singular nouns when the words already end with s. The general rule is this:
Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.

Here are some examples:

  • James‘s cat
  • Mrs. Jones‘s attorney
  • Dr. Seuss‘s book

Exceptions

Of course, we’re talking about the English language, so we’re going to have some exceptions to the rule. While grammar books and style guides don’t necessarily agree on how to determine these exceptions, most consider a word’s pronunciation. Here is what a few of the books say:

  • If pronunciation would be awkward with the added -’s, some writers use only the apostrophe. Either use is acceptable. (Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference)
  • Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is [such as Achilles' and Isis'], the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake. (Strunk and White, The Elements of Style)
  • With some singular nouns that end in -s, pronouncing the possessive ending as a separate syllable can sound awkward; in such cases, it is acceptable to use just an apostrophe. (Kirszner & Mandell, The Brief Holt Handbook)
  • Since writers vary in the use of the apostrophe, it is not possible to make a hard and fast rule about the apostrophe in singular words ending in s.… Punctuate according to pronunciation. (John E. Warriner, English Grammar and Composition)

For more on this issue, see the article at World Wide Words

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49 Responses to Possessive Form of Singular Nouns Ending with S

  1. Michael Brown says:

    Just a paradox -
    What word can be plural when a ‘s’ is added to it And when an additional ‘s’ is added to the plural form it turns into a singular again?
    Waiting for the answer.

  2. Hi Michael. That’s a fun one! I imagine the word you’re thinking of ends in e, probably ne. The word “fine” almost works, but not quite.
    I’m sure there is another similar word that would work, but I don’t have the time or concentration at the moment to think of it.
    For now, I’ll leave you with a word that you might not have considered because its use in English is confined to the Martial Arts: bo. :)

  3. marty says:

    How do you pronounce the possessive of Jesus, “Jesus’ “?
    Thank you.

  4. Luana says:

    I would also like to know definitively how to pronounce the plural of “Jesus”.

  5. Karl says:

    Marty and Luana,
    I’m sorry I can’t give you a definitive answer to the question about pronouncing the plural of “Jesus.” Word pronunciation is outside my area of expertise. I’ve heard the word pronounced both ways, and I suspect that it might be a matter of regional dialect, but I don’t know for sure. If anyone else reading this knows the answer, though, please leave a response!

  6. Paul says:

    I believe that the possessive of Jesus is pretty much pronounced as if it is not possessive. The reason being that it is a bit too much work saying Jesuses. Also the same is true of names like Moses. I also believe Christ’s is not pronounced as Christes. Let me know if you have any information that shows that I am not correct. I would be happy to correct myself.

  7. Lena says:

    The plural of Jesus is pronounced Jesuses… but like most things it is controversial and can be argued either way; similarily to the spelling: Jesus’ versus Jesus’s. I believe Jesus’s is correct, but it can be argued, and there are more important things to argue about =]

  8. Sacred G says:

    If it can be argued that means just choose and use whatever you like!

  9. Tim says:

    I have heard well-educated, articulate people pronouce Jesus’ with and without an extra s sound. If we can use music as any guide, in the hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” Jesus’ has two syllables.

  10. James says:

    to Tim. That’s a great point, about the hymn. But imagine saying “Jesus’ earthly ministry.” I’m sure it’s spelled Jesus’, but not sure that it is always pronounced Jesus. Not 100% percent either way.
    But my name is argued. To me even. I know it’s spelled James’s and pronounced Jameses, but people still want to argue.

  11. sanjaya says:

    prince
    add s becomes princes
    add another s becomes princess

  12. mary says:

    Haha nicely done with the paradox and answer. I like it a lot
    Thanks for the quick entertainment in grammar

  13. Lance says:

    I disagree with all those who say we should spell a word to conform with pronunciation. That idea is totally foreign to English. Follow Professor Strunk’s rule for writing and pronounce as you feel comfortable. I have no problem writing James’s and pronouncing it the same as James. Incidentally, if you read enough from Ms. Hacker, you may believe we are all outside the rules such that you may feel spelling her name without the ‘er’ is suitable.

  14. Esther says:

    Hi, my name is Esther and I have a friend who told me that to show the singulart possessive form of a noun having one syllable ending in an -s or -z sound, place the apostrophe after the last letter and add -s. To show a singular form of a noun of more than one syllable ending in a s or z sound, add only the apostrophe. I am confused about this grammer rule. Can anyone help me?

  15. Karl says:

    Hi Esther,
    I’ve never heard of that rule. If your friend can show you a grammar book that has that rule in it, I’d love to know what it’s called.

  16. Andy says:

    I found these posts to be rather interesting… and I just wanted to add some “food for thought” on this Thanksgiving Day in regards to the possessive of Jesus.
    From a theological view, Jesus can be considered plural as he’s part of the Triune God; so he’s part of a Plural Being.

  17. Jeff says:

    Esther and Karl,
    The Macmillan College Handbook has this rule with a slightly weaker stance. According to Macmillan, to make a singular proper noun ending in -s or -z possessive, you may always add -’s. If the proper noun ends in -s or -z and has two or more syllables ending in the same sound, you have the option of using only the apostrophe.
    This sounds to me like you absolutely must have the “s” for a singular, proper, possessive noun.
    I teach mathematics and a student argued with me about my spelling of “Gauss’s.” He insisted I should drop the “s,” so I went home and busted out the old MacMillan College Handbook. Since I bought that, used, around 1990, I googled and hit this discussion. It seems this rule is still in play.

  18. Andrew says:

    Michael Brown’s paradox
    Hey Michael. I think the word you’re looking for is “prince”. Add an “s” it becomes plural – “princes”. Add another “s” it becomes singlular again – “princess”.

  19. jules says:

    After reading several websites I still have no answer to my question. I hear people pronouncing some plural possessive nouns and it just sounds wrong. But is it? For instance:
    More than one kid is kids but when you use it in the proper possessive form is it?
    1. kids’ room pronounced kidz room
    2. kids’s room pronounced kidziz room

  20. Karl says:

    Hi Jules,
    Your first version is the correct one.

  21. Andy says:

    Sometimes one way around an obstacle like that is to take a different path. Instead of “kids” use “children”… then it’s simply “children’s” … no worries! :)

  22. C says:

    How do you perform the possess for Lucas

  23. Charles says:

    My name is a dandy as well, I have done Charles’s and pronounced it Charleses. I believe I am correct.

  24. jenn says:

    okay… here’s one… plural possessives ending in S or Z
    If we’re talking about the home of the Jones family, I believe it would be “The Jones’ Home?”
    But… say the last name ends in z… and you want to indicate an activity will be held at their home. For over twenty years, I’ve been saying “at the home of the Dietz family” because I just wasn’t sure how to write it in the plural possessive. I finally got fed up enough this morning that I did an internet search to see if I could figure it out. So… it looks like maybe it would be “Dietzes’ Home” ….? Somehow that seems funny, but I think it might be correct?

  25. Gerard says:

    what’s the safe and correct way to pronounce
    Alice’s ideas
    Max’s fried chicken

  26. Eric says:

    Gerard, I would say
    Alisus ideas
    Maxis fried chicken

  27. Martin says:

    My friend and I had an argument about possessive families. How would you talk about the house of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson?
    1. at the Richardsons’s house
    2. at the Richardsons’ house (my choice)
    3. at the Richardsons house
    4. at the Richardson’s house (his choice)
    We avoided it and said, “at the house of the Richardsons.”

  28. Steve says:

    I appreciate the helpful quotes from leading authorities in the field of grammar in this post. I should probably point out that Microsoft believes that the singular possessive of Jesus should be spelled Jesus’. I disagree based on my own grammar training, but I think I’ve already lost the culture war with my Word spell checker.

  29. Herwyn says:

    Isn’t “Mrs. Jones’s attorney” is wrong? in my country, it is going to be “Mrs. Jone’s attorney” right?(or wrong…)
    Herwyn_kun

  30. Karl says:

    Hi Herwyn,
    No, “Mrs. Jone’s attorney” is not correct

  31. Subtle Inquiry says:

    I just have a query I would like to forward as your page still seems ambiguous to me. In the case of historically derived nouns or nous ending in an ‘s’ I have always known the singular possessive to follow in the vein of plural possessives as follows:
    Jones –> Jones’
    Seuss –> Seuss’
    Your comments above indicate that ” ‘s ” is the appropriate solution; however, in your exception list you have a quote that implies either is acceptable. In general, I have almost categorically seen only an apostrophe appended in literary works. Pronunciation varies widely, yet the trend remains consistent. Is this incorrect?
    I have also seen this applied seemingly in a random fashion to any word that ends in an s sound regardless of the actual spelling. What would your opinion on this be?
    On an unprompted note, is there a strong library of reference available for grammatical rules? While good literary works provide an excellent framework, the vary too widely in style to be used as a reference. This particularly applies to quotation and semicolon applications.

  32. Cheri says:

    On the pronunciation of the possessive of Jesus (Jesus’), I was always taught that the very reason that it was not made a possessive with the ‘s (Jesus’s) was to avoid the pronunciation “Jesuses,” for to say so would be sacrilegious. Just some input from an old seminary student…

  33. Susan says:

    Is an apostrophe to be used in the following:
    She will return in one month’s time.
    I have six years’ experience.
    He must pay three months’ rent.

  34. ruth says:

    If you are commenting on the outlook of a group of buildings do you write “the buildings’ outlook” – with the apostrophe after the s?

  35. Karl says:

    Yes, Ruth, that’s correct.

  36. chacha says:

    the singular nouns ending in s very is use only a one person or thing,and place

  37. John says:

    I’ve always been told that you don’t add another “s” to a name ending with an “s”, but you enunciate with the “es” sound, i.e.
    James’ – spoke Jameses
    Thomas’ – spoke Thomases
    The reason I was told not to add another “s” is because it looks funny to people and that a proper name shouldn’t be altered. Any comments on this thought?
    Also, to the point, people always say and write “towards,” when the word is really “toward.” It’s even written in Webster’s as “towards.” I cannot figure out how the “s” has modified the word. I walk toward the door. I walk towards the door. has “s” made me get there faster???
    The point is, there are words that are common in our language that have no place.
    Another one (sorry) is ending a letter with regards. Do you have more than one regard for me I would ask?

  38. Mark says:

    Thanks for the help, but did no one notice that Dr. Seuss is spelled incorrectly?

  39. Karl says:

    Wow, great catch, Mark! I fixed it in the entry. Thanks.

  40. Rob says:

    The use of the apostrophe in English is there for one reason and one reason only and that is to indicate that there are missing letters. In the case of Mrs Jones’ or Mrs Jones’s or Mrs Joneses, all are correct because the forgotten Germanic way to indicate a plural was to add -es to the end of a word. In the case of Jones’s the e is missing and in the case of Jones’ both the e and s are missing. There is too much time spent in school these days trying to teach kids rules for the use of the apostrophe for one case and then another but it’s quite simple, missing letters only.
    Our language is very old, has evolved and is still evolving, but we must try and remember why something was once done the way it was to help us understand why we still do something despite certain modern conventions and exceptions.
    Hope this helps some.

  41. Matt says:

    Hi All,
    I know I’m being really anal here, but I couldn’t help noticing that a lot of people posting here were asking about the “plural” of Jesus.
    Unless you often need to refer to more than one Jesus (i.e. A group containing more than one Jesus), I think you mean the “possessive” of Jesus ;-)
    Matt.

  42. Stone says:

    Quick question.
    If I had to write the possesive form of the word Kanasas, which would it be?:
    -Kansas’
    -Kansas’s
    I would personally choose the first, but a second oppinion is always welcomed.

  43. Scott McLeod says:

    I note that not just Biblical but “classical” names (such as Menelaus) are by some convention made possessive without the extra “s” after the apostrophe. What about a classical name that is used scientifically, such as Saturn’s moon, Enceladus? As my thesis topic, I must often refer to some characteristic of this body using the possessive form, but writing “Enceladus’s” looks wrong (even though I think it’s right). What’s the correct (or most correct) way to do this?

  44. Karl says:

    Hi Scott,
    I think this is a gray area. I’d recommend asking your thesis advisor what she prefers.

  45. Rich says:

    Re your riddle, somebody already mentioned prince, princes, princess. Here are a couple more that work (if already posted I didn’t see them, sorry):
    bra, bras, brass
    care, cares, caress

  46. Jo says:

    Based on the one syllable or two theory, would the following be correct?
    Mr. Mendez

  47. Kathy says:

    the plural of Jesus may be necessary to know, not just the possessive form. In Hispanic culture, there are many people named “Jesus” – so the question, “How many Jesuses do you know?”
    Is this the correct plural spelling – “Jesuses” ?
    I’m writing a paper, so the possessive has to be right. I write, “In Jesus’ day…”
    I will go with Strunk and White on this one.

  48. Lisa says:

    Can an inanimate object be possessive (i.e., the plant’s pot, or the police car’s radar)? Or should it be the plant pot and car radar? Help!

  49. Andy says:

    Instead of of asking “How many Jesuses do you know?”, perhaps a better question would be, “How many people by the name of Jesus do you know?”.