Possessive Apostrophe S

Posted by R. Berg on April 03, 2002

In Reply to: Encroaching Senility & The Possessive Apostrophe S posted by TheFallen on April 03, 2002

: I've just re-read my post on Columbus and noticed that I used the phrase "Columbus' error". Though the rules for the use of the possessive apostrophe s are without a doubt more lax these days, if I am to remain a stickler to the original rigid rules, I think I should have rendered this as "Columbus's error". The trouble is, I now forget. I still think I remember that the plural possessive is rendered with a simple apostrophe - "the dogs' dinners" - unless the plural noun does not end in an "s" itself - "the children's game".

: I am at a slight loss when it comes to singular nouns ending in "s", though. Does the King James Bible *really* feature phrases similar to "Jesus's disciples"? Could someone kindly refresh my tired brain as to correct usage? Thanks in advance.

The trick here is that although the general rule would dictate "Jesus's," you're not accustomed to seeing it: the name belongs to an established class of exceptions.

From "A Manual of Style" (12th ed., University of Chicago Press, 1969):
The possessive case of singular nouns is formed by the addition of an apostrophe and an "s," and the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals) by the addition of an apostrophe only. This general rule is well understood and for common nouns needs no examples to illustrate its application. There is only one notable exception to the rule for common nouns, a case wherein tradition and euphony dictate the use of the apostrophe only:
for appearance' (conscience', righteousness', etc.) sake

PROPER NOUNS. The general rule covers proper nouns as well as common, including most names of any length ending in sibilants:
Burns's poems, Marx's theories, Czar Nicholas's assassination, . . . , Dickens's novels, PLURAL: the Rosses' and the Williamses' lands

Exceptions are the names "Jesus" and "Moses" and Greek (or hellenized) names of more than one syllable ending in "es":
Jesus' nativity, Moses' leadership, Euripides' plays, Demosthenes' orations, Rameses' tomb, Xerxes' army