English Language Stuff

Here is a page of English language stuff that I always seem to be forgetting.

Properly Spelled Words

Most of these are from The World Almanac 2011, p. 715

Possessive Case

Forming a possessive case noun... It sometimes makes more sense to see the 's as a particle (or clitic) and not a case form. It may be somewhat analogous to the Afrikaans particle se. See brother-in-law's and Mark, Luke, and John's car below. Also, don't forget the example of I saw the King of Denmark's crown but I saw the Kings of Denmark's crowns.

Possessives notes:

  • You add 's generally speaking for the singular possessive: the dog's leg
  • You add ' for a plural possessor ending in -s (the tourists' luggage). This is true even if the plural is irregular: dwarves' noses
  • If you have an irregular plural possessor that doesn't end in s, you use 's: children's playground. Generally, form the nominative plural first, and then figure out if you need an ' or an 's!
  • Here is where 's as particle really makes sense. If several people own one thing, then there is a 's at the end of the series: Mark, Luke, and John's car. But if they each have a car it's: Mark's, Luke's, and John's cars.
  • Add 's to proper nouns even if they already end in an s. This is always acceptable, but some styles allow some variation on this: Dickens's book
  • The possessive of a proper plural noun is regular: the Smiths' house. A variation of this is often seen on signs and mailboxes: The Smiths'. But I'm not sure to what the possession refers. Is it their mailbox, address, house? Maybe not using the apostrophe is actually acceptable or even the "official" way of doing this, but everyone uses an apostrophe anyway. This is completely confused with making a simple plural (non-possessive) form of a family name: The Frankses have..., not The Franks' have.... But note here that there is a difference between how proper noun plurals are formed compared to normal plurals: Murphy/Murphys
  • The possessive plural of proper names is formed by just adding a ' regardless of whether it ends in an s or not. Form the plural first(!): The Smiths', The Dickenses'
  • Note that to form a plural (not possessive) of abbreviations or numbers, you don't use an apostrophe usually: IRAs, PhDs, 1960s. (But note plural possessive the 1960s' greatest hits.) The idea here is that capital letters and numbers are distinct enough that an apostrophe just isn't needed. But the plural of letters do take 's: Mind your p's and q's, two B's on a report card . I guess ps and qs just aren't distinct enough for them. The Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook do not agree here.

My Handy Table with Examples

Possession in English
Normal Nouns
Nom. Sing.dog
Poss. Sing.dog's
Nom. Plur.dogs
Poss. Plur.dogs'
Nouns in an s-sound
(also z-, č-, š-, or (d)ž-sound)
Nom. Singmatch
Poss. Sing.match's
Nom. Plur.matches
Poss. Plur.matches'
Nouns with an irregular plural
not in an s-sound
Nom. Sing.ox, deer
Poss. Sing.ox's, deer's
Nom. Plur.oxen, deer
Poss. Plur.oxen's, deer's
Nouns with an irregular plural
in an s-sound
Nom. Sing.dwarf
Poss. Sing.dwarf's
Nom. Sing.dwarves
Poss. Plur.dwarves'
Family Names
Nom. Sing.Smith, Franks, Murphy
Poss. Sing.Smith's, Franks's, Murphy's
Nom. Plur.Smiths, Frankses, Murphys
Poss. Plur.Smiths', Frankses', Murphys'
Family Names in Silent -s, -x, or -z
Authorities disagree.
Nom. Sing.Margaux, Descartes, Dumas
Poss. Sing.Margaux'(s), Descartes'(s), Dumas'(s)
Nom. Plur.Margaux, Descartes, Dumas
Poss. Plur.?Margaux's, ?Descartes's, ?Dumas's
Abbreviations and Numbers
Chicago has PhDs and Ph.D.'s
Nom. SingIRA, PhD, Ph.D.
Poss. Sing.IRA's, PhD's, Ph.D.'s
Nom. Plur.IRAs, PhDs, Ph.D.'s, 1960s
Poss. Plur.IRAs', PhDs', ?Ph.D.s', 1960s'
Nom. Sing.q
Poss. Sing.q's
Nom. Sing.q's
Poss. Plur.?qs'
Latin (and Greek)
Nom. sing.alumnus, alumna, medium, index
Poss. Sing.alumnus's, alumna's, medium's, index's
Nom. Plur.alumni, alumnae, media, indices
Poss. Plur.alumni's, alumnae's, media's, indices'
Nom. Sing.soprano
Poss. Sing.soprano's
Nom. Plur.soprani
Poss. Plur.soprani's
For Euphony's Sake
(An 's in the poss. sing.
is always acceptable here
according to MLA. Chicago disagrees.
Also, polysyllabic Greeks in -s are here.)
Nom. Sing.appearance, Jesus, Xerxes
Poss. Sing.appearance'(s), Jesus'(s), Xerxes'(s)
Nom. Plur.appearances
Poss. Plur.appearances'
Compound Nouns
The possessive plurals are usually not used.
The sentence is reworded.
Nom. Sing.attorney general, brother-in-law, woman doctor
Poss. Sing.attorney general's, brother-in-law's, ?woman doctor's
Nom. Plur.attorneys general, brothers-in-law, women doctors
Poss. Plur.attorneys general's, brothers-in-law's, ?women doctors'
Already Has an Apostrophe
Nom. Sing.McDonald's
Poss. Sing.McDonald's
What To Do Here?
Barclays and St Andrews no longer
officially have an appostrophe.
Nom. Sing.Barclays, St Andrews
Poss. Sing.?Barclays's, ?St Andrews's
Nom. Sing.one, everyone, it
Poss. Sing.one's, everyone's, its

More Apostrophe Hell—Presidents' Day

From Wikipedia:

Because Presidents Day is not the official name of the federal holiday [actually "Washington's Birthday"], there is variation in how it is rendered. Both Presidents Day and Presidents' Day are common today, and both are considered correct by dictionaries and usage manuals. Presidents' Day was once the predominant style, and it is still favored by the majority of significant authorities—notably, The Chicago Manual of Style (followed by most book publishers and some magazines), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Webster's Third International Dictionary, and Garner's Modern American Usage. In recent years, as the use of attributive nouns (nouns acting as modifiers) has become more widespread, the popularity of "Presidents Day" has increased. This style is favored by the Associated Press Stylebook (followed by most newspapers and some magazines) and the Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference (ISBN 978-1582973357). President's Day is a misspelling when used with the intention of celebrating more than one individual (see also apostrophe); however, as an alternate rendering of "Washington's Birthday," or as denominating the commemoration of the presidency as a singular institution, it is a proper spelling of a possessive. Indeed, this spelling was considered for use as the official federal designation by Robert McClory, a congressman from Illinois who was tasked with getting the 1968 federal holiday reorganization bill through the House Judiciary Committee. Nonetheless, while Washington's Birthday was originally established to honor George Washington, the term Presidents Day was informally coined in a deliberate attempt to use the holiday to honor multiple presidents, and is virtually always used that way today. Though President's Day is sometimes seen in print — even sometimes on government Web sites, this style is not endorsed by any major dictionary or usage authority.