The Writer’s Toolbox – Getting Possessive, Part III

All Proper

The Writer’s Toolbox – Getting Possessive, Part III

For the past two weeks we’ve discussed forming the possessive with common nouns, both singular and plural. In this week’s Toolbox, we’ll look at a different type of noun?the proper noun?and how it forms the possessive case.

General rule for singular proper nouns

Proper nouns are most easily recognizable as the names of specific people or places or specific entities like restaurants, newspapers, and so on. Sarah is a proper noun; so is Canada. So are The Voice Magazine, Athabasca University, and Costco.

Remember the general rule for singular common nouns? Singular proper nouns follow that same rule and form the possessive by adding an apostrophe + s.

Example A: Marshall McLuhan’s writings have influenced my perspectives on television.

Example B: Ontario’s premier will be making an official statement tomorrow.

Example C: Datacorp’s new policies will go into effect on Monday.

General rule for plural proper nouns

The general rule for plural proper nouns is the same as for plural common nouns: add an apostrophe.

Example D: The O?Briens? party was the highlight of the month.

Watch, though, that you don’t confuse the plural, possessive, and plural possessive:

Example E: The O?Briens threw a great party. This is the plural form.

Example F (incorrect): The O?Brien’s party was a lot of fun. This applies the possessive case to the singular form of the proper noun O?Brien; It’s incorrect because the party was thrown by the O?Briens, not ?the O?Brien.?

Example G (correct): The O?Briens? party was a lot of fun.

Example H (correct): The Joneses? party was a lot of fun.

Singular proper nouns ending in ?s: APA and Chicago

For singular proper nouns ending in –s, It’s a little trickier; which rule you use depends on which style guide You’re following.

APA and Chicago styles, which are used in books and in the academic world, form the possessive by adding apostrophe + s, even when the proper noun ends in ?s. It might look weird, but that is the accepted current practice for APA and Chicago styles.

Example I: Dickens’s work was the basis for my research project.

Example J: Kansas’s senators are making an announcement today.

There are two major exceptions, however. First, if You’re using APA style and the proper noun ends in an s That’s unpronounced, as in Descartes, you just add the apostrophe. Note that this only applies to APA style; Chicago no longer follows this exception.

Example K (correct in APA style): Descartes? writings influenced Bob’s philosophical outlook.

Example L (correct in Chicago style): Descartes’s writings influenced Bob’s philosophical outlook.

The second exception involves singular proper nouns already ending with an apostrophe + s, like McDonalds’s. In this case, you do not add anything to form the possessive:

Example M: McDonalds’s fries can be addicting.

Singular proper nouns ending in ?s: AP style

If You’re following AP style?as is done by many publications?you’ll form the possessive of a proper noun ending in s by adding an apostrophe only.

Example N (correct in AP style): Dickens? work was influential.

That’s it! In next week’s issue we’ll wrap up possessive nouns by looking at some special situations, including idioms and expressions and acronyms. Add these rules to your cheat sheet, and remember: whatever style guide You’re using, the key is to stay consistent.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor and a lover of great writing. Chat with her on Twitter about all things literary @turntopage2.