Forming the Possessive with Names Ending in s

Wondering how to form the possessive with names ending in s? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you, because even the experts disagree.

Mignon Fogarty (better known as Grammar Girl), for example, prefers to leave the extra s off.

But the Chicago Manual of Style says that forming the possessive with names ending in s is just like forming the possessive with names that don’t end in s: add an apostrophe-s (’s).

possessive with names ending in s

Waiting for a verdict can be excruciating. The jury is still out on how to form the possessive for s-final names.

How to Form the Possessive with Names Ending in s

Before we get into the details, let’s look at a few examples of the possessive form of names that don’t end in s. The rule? Add apostrophe-s (’s):

Maria’s school
Mr. Clemmer’s studio
Julius Erving’s uniform

Easy, right? You learned that in grade school.

Chicago’s reasoning—which I agree with—is that a possessive name ending in s should follow the same rule.

See the following names, for example:

James’s coat
Kansas’s governor
Dr. Banks’s office

But many people don’t like this, saying that it “sounds strange.”

My reply is that writing isn’t speech.

If we went by sound alone, we would write grammatically incorrect sentences such as Me and Chris are leaving now, There’s two reasons to do it, and The woman that’s behind the bar is the owner.

These all contain errors that are very common in speech, particularly among native speakers.

But an editor would correct these structures in expository writing: Chris and I are leaving now, There are two reasons to do it, and The woman who’s behind the bar is the owner.

Fiction is a game with different rules. Anything goes in dialogue—”correct” is practically an afterthought.

Exceptions to the Rule

What about a possessive name ending in s that comes from the Bible or Greek mythology? For example, should you write Jesus’ or Jesus’s?

jesus' or jesus's? forming the possessive with names ending in s

Jesus’ lamb or Jesus’s lamb?

Here it gets complicated. You’ve probably seen examples like the following:

in Jesus’ name
Moses’ people
Socrates’ writings

There seems to be more agreement here. According to the Chicago Manual of Style (and others), the names Jesus and Moses are examples of exceptions to the rule.

Ditto for Greek or hellenized names, such as Euripides, Sophacles, Ramses, etc. These names have multiple syllables with an unstressed final syllable:

Euripides’ tragedies
Sophacles’ plays
Ramses’ wealth

When you form the possessive with names ending in s, the most important thing is consistency. (This is also true for other questions of style.)

I write James’s coat and you may write James’ coat. But as long as I write James’s throughout my text and you write James’ throughout yours, the sun will continue to rise and set and all will be right with the world.

Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown

Things start to get ugly, though, when writers and editors don’t pick a style and stick to it. For example, take the good folks who make Thomas’ English muffins.

Whoa! Did I just write Thomas’ instead of Thomas’s?!? Yep.

possessive with names ending in s, Thomas' English muffin

Does this company know how to form the possessive with names ending in s?

I’m writing Thomas’ English muffins because that’s the company name (see image above).

So why isn’t it Thomas’s English muffins? I think it should be. And apparently so does the company, at least when spoken:

Did you see that? Kitsch value aside, the narrator says TOM-uh-sizz at the very moment that we see Thomas’ on the packaging! My head is spinning.

To illustrate how bizarre Thomas’ is, just imagine if the company had been founded by S.B. Smith instead of S.B. Thomas.

Would the package have read Smith’ English muffins?

When you form the possessive with names ending in s, add an apostrophe-s (’s). That’s what Helen Fielding did when she wrote Bridget Jones’s Diary.

To learn more about other pressing grammar and punctuation issues, check out these articles: