The Writer’s Toolbox – Getting Possessive, Part V

For Time's Sake

The past four weeks we’ve explored the possessive case in great detail. We’ve learned the general rules: for singular and plural common nouns; for proper nouns; studied the difference among plural, possessive, and plural possessive; learned style-based exceptions to the general rules for certain types of nouns; and examined compound possessives and joint possession.

Now we’re at the end of the road, and It’s time to wrap up loose ends with a few miscellaneous rules, expressions, and notes.

Possessive of nouns plural in form, singular in meaning

Some nouns are plural in form but singular in meaning?like politics, species, and Royal Gardens. When a common or proper noun ends in s in both its singular and its plural form, form the possessive by adding the apostrophe only regardless of which style guide You’re using. You may recognize this as the possessive rule for regular plural nouns.

Example A: I wrote a paper discussing the United States? ventures into government-sponsored healthcare.

Example B: Academy Awards celebrate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? picks for best films of the year.

Sometimes, though, the correct possessive version looks awkward and should be rewritten to avoid the possessive entirely:

Example C (correct, but somewhat awkward): Economics? basic principles must be mastered before one can competently teach them.

Example D (better): The basic principles of economics must be mastered before one can competently teach them.

Expressions with sake

A few weeks ago we looked at words ending in an s sound and followed by a word beginning with s or a similar sound. This is often found in expressions using the word sake (e.g., for appearance? sake). For these expressions, check your style guide; AP style only adds an apostrophe, while Chicago adds an apostrophe if the word ends in the letter s (otherwise, if it ends merely with an s sound, add apostrophe + s).

Example E (AP style): For goodness? sake, stop complaining!

Example F (Chicago style): For goodness? sake, stop complaining!

Example G (Chicago style): For appearance’s sake, she presented her project in a new folder.

Example H (AP style): For appearance? sake, she presented her project in a new folder.

Expressions with time

Time-based expressions like ?in three weeks? time? seem like they should take the possessive case, but they’re not technically possessives at all. Rather, they’re rooted in an old form called the genitive case. Although the genitive case, in English at least, is no longer in use, the expressions remain?and remain confusing. Remember this rule: even though the possessive case isn’t being used, treat these expressions as though they’re in possessive case rather than genitive.

Example I: Sarah has three years? experience in project management. Here, the word of is implied (?years of experience?); this points to the archaic genitive case, so years is treated as a possessive noun and forms its possessive like other regular plurals (adding an apostrophe).

Example J: John’s accident resulted in an hour’s delay. Here, the word of is implied, so we have an expression using the old genitive case; hour is treated as a possessive noun and forms its possessive like other common nouns (adding apostrophe + s).

Formatting notes

we’re just about finished, but one last note: watch your apostrophes? direction. Word processing software has the bad habit of changing your well-meaning apostrophe to a wrong-facing single quotation mark. Apostrophes are always shaped like the number 9. If you’ve got a 6 instead, be sure to switch it back.

This concludes the series on possessive case?for now (there are a few more rules to cover, but we’ll save those for another time). If You’re still uncomfortable, read through the other articles in this series and make yourself familiar with the rules and exceptions. Then try making up your own example sentences. Practice may not make perfect, but it makes confidence?and That’s one of the best qualities a writer can possess.

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

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