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Words and Sayings

Apostrophes and Possessives
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Is it proper English to add an "es" instead of an apostrophe-s to form the possessive? For example, "Witches brew" instead of "Witch's brew"? If not, is the apostrophe-s the only way make the genitive?

The "es" never indicates possession. Possession is indicated by the apostrophe. The apostrophe always shows that in standard orthography. The apostrophe with an s ('s) is added to a singular noun (witch --> witch's brew), and an apostrophe alone is added to make a plural noun possessive (witches --> witches' brew).

Personal Names
There are some exceptions with personal names ending in s in the singular, when made plural (as for a family). This is because the singular form is sometimes also used (by some writers) as the plural. E.g., the Jenkins family might be the Jenkinses or the Jenkins.

In both these cases the possessive of the plural is made by adding apostrophe only,  since the noun already ends in an s as any plural. The singular of such names is written both ways (various with the writer):  "Old man Jenkins' house" or "old man Jenkins's house."

The latter is passing out of use, with the focus on speed and efficiency, and economy in writing, in recent years.

Where the singular name also ends in an s, the es is the normal form of the plural.   Ex. Two men named James.  James Lee and the James family:  James' car (the car of one man named James), but the Jameses' car (the one car that the two men named James came in).   The es still indicates plural here, and the apostrophe still indicates possession (genitive case).


First written 17 April 2001 on an Internet discussion group
Updated and posted 22 November 2004

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 2004
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
Email: orville@jenkins.nu    
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