More Apostrophe Help!

Paula, an executive assistant, wrote to ask me to continue the discussion of apostrophes. She wants to know why boss’s has an apostrophe and an s but Chris’ has only an apostrophe.

The truth is that Chris takes just an apostrophe only if you follow the rules in the The Associated Press Stylebook. In other style guides, Chris takes an apostrophe and an s: Chris’s.

“AP” rules that proper names such as Chris, Agnes, and Russ take only an apostrophe, like these examples:

Chris’ photograph appears on page 1 of the business section. (Other style guides use Chris’s.)

Agnes’ banana bread is perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Other style guides recommend Agnes’s.)

I do NOT follow AP style, partly because it does not reflect the way we pronounce the names. For instance, I would not say (or write) “Chris’ bread.” I would pronounce it “Chris’s bread,” wouldn’t you?

I agree with The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, which states simply:

Form the possessive of singular nouns and abbreviations by adding an apostrophe and an s. This rule applies even if the noun or abbreviation ends in s.

Among its examples, Microsoft lists “Brooks’s Law.”

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends Chris’s, Strauss’s, Inez’s, and Malraux’s. However, it allows Descartes’ and Camus’ (without the additional s) because adding another s could cause mispronunciation.

I do hate to get into all the arcane rules. Keeping it simple is the key to confidence and consistency–especially if you don’t have a shelf full of well-thumbed reference books to turn to.

Here is my rule, Paula, since you asked: Be consistent. Keep it simple. Use manager’s, boss’s, brother’s, Chris’s, Conchita’s, Rich’s, Russ’s, Rex’s, Ira’s, Inez’s, Mr. Jones’s, Ms. Mohammed’s, etc. Don’t create exceptions. And don’t let your Microsoft grammar and spelling checker dissuade you–after all, it tried to shake me from “Brooks’s Law”–Microsoft’s own example!

And if you need to use a word whose possessive form escapes you, rewrite the sentence. For example, is it a writer’s group or a writers’ group? No problem! Just make it a group of writers.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “More Apostrophe Help!”

  • Do I write on the top of a business memo issued from the Chief Executive Office

    Chairman and CEO office or

    Chairman and CEO’s office or

    Office of Chairman and CEO

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