Apostrophes And Their Use With Proper Nouns

This may seem like a silly subject to write about, but I must admit that I’veMH900427785 had trouble using the apostrophe appropriately in the past, especially regarding its use with proper nouns that end in “s”. I’ve written a similar blog in the past, but it’s become a personal dilemma since the main character in my debut novel is named Jon Masters and the book is going to be published soon. So I’ve spent considerable time editing and at times facing this issue.

How do I refer to Jon’s wife in my writing? Is she Jon Masters’ wife or is she Jon Masters’s wife? Well, I looked up the accepted method to depict such a possessive proper noun and my confusion worsened. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using just an apostrophe after the name—in this case, Masters’. But other writing experts recommend adding the apostrophe PLUS an “s” after the name—as in Masters’s.

A noted e-newsletter on English grammar, called GrammarBook.com, devoted a blog to the subject and stated that the rule to be followed is this: “Forget the apostrophe until you write out the entire word. A correct possessive apostrophe can never entangle itself within any word.”

MH900299735So if I used this rule from Jane Straus’s GrammarBook newsletter, then I could be assured that “Jon Masters’s wife” would be the correct way to write that phrase! But interestingly, my computer’s spell check underlines this spelling in red—indicating that I made an error. (Sigh!)

Does this mean that The Associated Press Stylebook is correct and a noted English grammar expert is wrong? Further research findings (noted here and here) give conflicting rules. One reference states that only an apostrophe is needed after a word that ends in “s” to show the possessive, while another states that an apostrophe PLUS an “s” is needed after a word already ending in “s” when writing a possessive noun. (More Sighs!!)

As I decide which is correct, another thought comes to mind. What is the proper way to write the possessive when the proper noun is plural—for instance, when referring to both Jon Masters and his wife, Gwen?

Well, the rules are quite clear when it comes to the plural of aMH900441734 proper name ending with an “s”. The rule states that you always use an “es” after the “s”—in this case, I would refer to the married couple as the Masterses. That’s a mouthful to say the least, but it is correct.

And how would I write the possessive of that word? Would it be the Masterses’ house or the Masterses’s house? Again, when using the plural of a possessive proper noun ending in “s”, the rules are quite clear also. The rule states that one adds only an apostrophe after the existing “s” in a proper noun that is also plural and ends in “s”—in this case, Jon and Gwen’s house would be written as the Masterses’ house. Although correct, that phrasing does sound rather awkward. When all is said and done, I might circumvent this rule entirely and instead phrase it as “the house of Jon and Gwen Masters.” (Another Sigh, but this time with a Smile!)

While there are some discrepancies between The Associated Press guidelines and the Chicago Manual of Style, modern English literature seems to adhere to three specific guidelines for apostrophes with MH900443125possessive proper nouns: If the noun is singular, add an apostrophe before the “s”—as in Jon’s. If the noun is singular but ends in “s”, also add an apostrophe before the “s”—as in Jon Masters’s. If the noun is plural and ends in “s”, just add an apostrophe—as in the Masteres’ house.

Although I have these rules firmly in command now and will apply them in the editing of my work, I’ll leave you with one disclaimer: these rules don’t necessarily apply to my friends across the pond, over our northern border, those Down Under or writers in other nations that use the English language as their written word.

My research tells me that I can only safely say that these rules seem to apply to writers within the borders of the United States who are writing for a domestic audience.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!



My debut novel Lethal Medicine (with protagonist Jon Masters) will publish in less than two weeks. IT WILL HAVE NO POSSESSIVE NOUNS that require me to do any of the above apostrophe calisthenics regarding Jon Masters. (Sigh of Relief!)

By the way: If you’re interested in reading the first chapter of Lethal Medicine, it’s included in a FREE download of my short story Cuffed that was recently published.

Download it FREE on any of your digital devices or apps from Smashwords.com using My Special 100% Off Promo Code!

═►Use Promo Code UU25H @ https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/562366

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in "Cuffed" by James J. Murray, A Free Short Story Offering, A New Short Story Release, About James J. Murray, About Writing, Accuracy in Editing, Accuracy in Writing, All About Writing, Apostrophe Use, Apostrophe Use with Nouns Ending in S, Apostrophe Use with Plural Nouns Ending in S, Apostrophes and Proper Nouns, Appropriate Apostrophe Use, Blog Writers, Blogging, Chicago Manual of Style and Apostrophes, Developing a Writing Career, Developing Better Writing Skills, Developing Writing Skills, Grammar and Punctuation, Growing As A Writer, Medical Treatments Using LSD, Obsession with Proper Usage of the English Language, Proper Punctuation in Writing, Proper Use of Apostrophes, The AP Style and Apostrophes, The Art of Writing, The Associated Press Rules for Apostrophes, The Misuse of Apostrophes, The Misuse of Apostrophes with Nouns Ending in S, Tools of Fiction Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Apostrophes And Their Use With Proper Nouns

  1. wrLapinsky says:

    Another tangled web in English. Thanks for this. When I write something I expect anyone else to read, I always read it out loud, usually just internally. At least for me, the slowness of speaking speed finds a lot of awkward structures, missed words, or the wrong word. I tried reading your blog out loud — parts of it, while totally correct, sound strange. I get concerned that my audience will also find it strange, potentially taking their concentration away from my message.
    I find that if I am writing something that will be spoken, like a presentation or speech, I write differently than when I am writing to be read, like my blog. I become more concerned about the sound, avoiding word combinations that are difficult to say or, worse, if not spoken clearly may have a different inference. If some of the listeners have limited English, then I find I use shorter, simpler words and avoid cliches like the plague. Cadence becomes important, as does leaving logical spaces to breathe. In a well written story, dialogue may sound different than the narrative.
    Of course, you could have just changed his name to Jon Master.
    Looking forward to reading Lethal Medicine.

    • Yes, understood – speaking, writing narrative, dialogue – all requires different approaches.
      BUT change Jon Masters to Jon Master?? Where’s the challenge in that and if I did that, I wouldn’t have had such wonderful subject matter for this very confusing blog. As you know, I always appreciate your comments and look forward to seeing you soon. All the best ~

  2. Hmmm. Apostrophic calisthenics? 😉

  3. richardbabbott says:

    There are (at least in UK English, and I believe in US English as well) some other exemptions for names of a traditional or classical nature – for example Jesus’ rather than Jesus’s, or Socrates’ rather than Socrates’s. A great get-out for those of us who write historical fiction but not so useful for those who write contemporary stuff!

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