Possessive: History, and proper nouns in "ss" - Ross' or Ross's

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Inquisitor, Dec 17, 2007.

  1. Inquisitor New Member

    USA English
    I realize that the proper use of " 's " and " ' " when using the possessive case with nouns that end in S has been something previously discussed on this forum. I came across several topics on the subject already in my search for a few answers. It seems as though it has generally been agreed upon that it is equally acceptable to write either " Gladys' " or " Gladys's " when referring to something owned by Gladys.

    I did not however come across a topic directly pertaining to my case. I happen to be named Ross, and I was wondering if the either or rule works for my name as well. in school I found that most of my English teachers were inclined to tell me that simply " Ross' " was the correct way to write it.

    Which brings me to the second part of my question. I vaguely remember that one of the English teachers that I asked replied by saying that both were possible spellings, but that, in the earlier history of the language, adding " 's " on to the end of a proper noun that already ended with " ss " was only used with royalty or gods.

    So my question is twofold: 1) How do I label something as mine? And 2) Do I need to worry about committing an act of hubris in the attempt?

    Thanks in advance for your consideration.
  2. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Welcome to the forums, Inquisitor.

    The unsatisfactory answer to your question is that it is a matter of stylistic preference.

    Different grammar authorities (many self-appointed) and style guides offer conflicting advice. Here is an excerpt from a style guide I like for its straightforward approach to language:

    source: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/publish/sp7084.pdf.
  3. Inquisitor New Member

    USA English
    Thank you much, Chuchuflete, that seems to be the general opinion that I have come across in my search. I must confess however that, while I am curious about the answer to that question I am still more intrigues by the second part of my question.

    I will be the first to admit that I am by no means an expert on the intricacies of English grammar much less the history of the language and why it might have developed the way it has. It seems to me, however, that the rule which you have quoted might have become the preferred rule simply out of convenience.

    Out of my search of the internet on this subject this site impressed me most by the wide range of questions and sheer number of knowledgeable people willing to provide answers. I realize that this forum might normally deal with the modern day usage of the English language rather than the history of it, but if anyone has some light to shed on the topic I would be much obliged. This question has been hanging in the back of my mind since I got that reply so many years ago, and I was just recently reminded of it in a conversation about the proper use of possessive in this case.

    Thanks again
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Inquisitor, and welcome from me too.

    WRF has a forum dealing specifically with language history/etymology.

    You might want to post your historical query there:).
  5. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I believe your teacher's claim about an apostrophe + s being used in the past only on proper nouns that referred to royalty or gods is completely without foundation. The important thing is the sound, and not the spelling, and in any case many words that end in double "s" today had a final "e" in earlier forms of the language (e.g., Chaucer's Knight speaks of a lady with her hair bound in a "tresse".)

    I will go along with the rule used by the Oxford University Press ("Hart's Rules"):

    This is also the rule used by the United States Government Printing Office:
    Among the examples then explicitly given by the USGPO are "boss's" as the possessive of "boss", and "hostess's" as the possessive of "hostess", and "Mars's" as the possessive for the planet Mars.

    Following from this, a pen belonging to Ross would be (as I would write it) Ross's pen.
  6. moejoe New Member

    When the word is a single syllable then you use 's - for example possessive of press would be press's.
  7. Wayland Banned

    I have to agree with the last few posters.I do not know anyone called Gladys but I have a sibling called Chris and throughout our schooling and sbsequent life the possessive was always Chris's.

    I don't know much about the history of the usage but I have to say that when I started noticing (in the last decade or two) the forms without the s I just assumed that it was (erroneously, obviously) part of the newspeak political correctness that was being foisted upon us.
    I think that I can safely say that I still see both forms used but it is this s-less form that seems to be taking over.
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As explained in most of the earlier threads, if you pronounce the possessive with two "s" sounds, then you write it with two "s" sounds.
    See GWB's post above and many, many others.
    It has nothing to do with the number of syllables, but is closely related to the number of sybillants and where they appear in the word.
    Thus I would talk of Petrarchus's, but only Moses'.
    I can cope with two "s" sounds in a row, but not three.

    Wayland will be delighted to know that Chris has already featured strongly in:
    Possessive - s' or s's with proper nouns - Chris' or Chris's dog?
  9. mplsray Senior Member

    The GPO Style Manual changed the rule. Its guide to punctuation here (from the latest edition) now gives boss' instead of boss's, hostess' instead of hostess's and Mars' instead of Mars's.

    A pen belonging to Ross would thus be Ross' pen.
  10. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I usually just write my name on my things, but I might put an "Ex libris" or "Property of" in front of it if I have time and there is room enough. And for something valuable, I often add my phone number.

    If you want to use a possessive form of your own name, choose what seems natural to you. I believe a form of a person's own name should sound right to the person whose name it is.
  11. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    Who elected them to changed the rules?

    I will continue to say and write Ross's.

    I see that The Times still writes "Jonathan Ross's wife, Jane Goldman",
    the Irish Times still writes "He was an accountant and part owner of Ross’s Hotel",
    and The Guardian still writes "I later read the chapter on Britten in Alex Ross's much-admired history of 20th-century music".
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2009
  12. mplsray Senior Member

    The GPO Style Manual is a style manual, and whoever edits a style manual can make whatever rules they want. As far as I can tell, however, on this subject the GPO is following changes which originated elsewhere.

    I don't follow the GPO Style Manual's rules. In particular, I think boss' is a very odd usage. I wrote my message in response to information which was out of date.
  13. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    At work everyone around me seems to prefer the odd forms: I see so many genitives like UPS' and RBS' that I don't feel justified in changing them to my style. But it still feels like a striking disparity between writing and what I feel sure most people say.
  14. pbrowne New Member

    English - as in English not American
    According to Oxford University Press 'New Hart's Rules' and the Oxford University Style Guide https://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/media_wysiwyg/University%20of%20Oxford%20Style%20Guide.pdf
    possession is grammatically indicated for singular nouns (including those ending in s, yes that includes ss or even sss and ssssss...) by adding ‘s, hence Ross’s. Only plural nouns ending in s are indicated with just an apostrophe, e.g. brothers’. See page 9 of the Oxford University Style Guide.

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