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Clinton’s and Sanders’s Apostrophes

Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders have differences. But according to the editors at The New York Times, one of them is not the way their names are made possessive. The Times forms the possessive the same way for both of them. 

Times example:

But in the end, Mr. Sanders's populist economic message proved no match for Mrs. Clinton's deep ties in the state. 

Do you support the candidates' positions? Don't answer that–this blog focuses on business writing! Rather, do you support the inclusion of the s after the apostrophe following both of their names? 

If you do, you have The Chicago Manual of Style, Microsoft Manual of Style, and Garner's Modern American Usage on your side. Those guides argue for adding the apostrophe and the to singular proper names. 

If you don't support it, The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) agrees with you. For singular names like Sanders, which ends in s, AP adds only an apostrophe, not an apostrophe and an s–no exceptions. Following the AP rule leads to these examples:

Pundits point to Sanders' lack of pledged delegates.

Serena Williams' sister Venus also played on Sunday.

Venus' opponent was Elena Vesnina. 

If you are holding back, thinking Well, it depends, you are with The Gregg Reference Manual. Gregg recommends pronunciation as a factor in deciding whether to include the after the apostrophe for singular nouns, explaining:

If a new syllable is formed in the pronunciation of the possessive, add an apostrophe plus s. 

If the addition of an extra syllable would make a word ending in an hard to pronounce, add the apostrophe only. 

These examples follow Gregg's rules: 

Venus's opponent (the syllable is easily pronounced)

Serena Williams' sister (an additional syllable would be hard to pronounce)

Daniel Day-Lewis's talent (the syllable is easily pronounced)

Brian Williams' career (an additional syllable would be hard to pronounce)

The challenge in applying Gregg's approach at work is that we may not agree on which phrases are difficult to pronounce. You might think it's easy to pronounce "Senator Sanders's donors," while I might find "Senator Sanders' donors" more reasonable. 

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To master apostrophes and other
challenging marks, take my
Punctuation for Professionals
course.

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If you appreciate consistency, opt for The New York Times approach, supported by The Chicago Manual of Style, Microsoft Manual of Style, and Garner's Modern American Usage. 

Or choose AP's way of doing things. Personally, I don't like phrases like "Chris' opinion," so I don't apply the AP rule. 

Or bend to the requirements of punctuation. I like this flexible approach. 

Let's agree to disagree if we need to, just as we do at our polling places. 

This blog post will take you to a few others on possessive forms: "Years' or Year's or Years." Have fun! 

Lynn
Syntax Training 

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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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

20 comments on “Clinton’s and Sanders’s Apostrophes”

  • Both Sanders’s and Chris’ are abominations. Consistency isn’t worth the distaste of reading either of those. I applaud Gregg’s approach, perhaps with a little more guidance as to what final consonants sound better with either. At first glance, it seems like ‘voiceless consonant + apostrophe S” and “voiced consonant + apostrophe”?

  • I didn’t think I had a choice… I just followed the AP rule, as I was taught when I was learning English. Is there a difference between AE and BE, perhaps?

  • Hi Madelyn,

    I appreciate your strong opinions. I too like to make singular-possessive decisions based on pronunciation, but I am also happy to follow “The New York Times” approach.

    I don’t find the terms “voiced” and “voiceless” helpful. “Gregg” suggests basing the decision on one’s own pronunciation. So you might write Mr. Hastings’ (unvoiced), whereas I might choose Mr. Hastings’s (voiced). It depends on our preferences. That gray area is the reason people find consistent rules comforting.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Lynn

  • Hi Deborah,

    The “New Oxford Style Manual,” which I use as a guide to British English, says this:

    An apostrophe and “s” are generally used with personal names ending in an “s,” “x,” or “z” sound: Charles’s, Dickens’s, Marx’s, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but an apostrophe alone may be used in cases where an additional “s” would cause difficulty in pronunciation, typically after longer names that are not accented on the last or penultimate syllable: Nicholas’ or Nicholas’s, Lord Williams’s School.

    As you can see, the rules above are different from those of “AP.”

    Lynn

  • Thank you Lynn! Though I migh be even more confused now 😀 what did I actually learn in school? I’m not sure anymore. Anyway thank you for mentioning the “New Oxford Style Manual”, I’m surely going to make a good use of it! Forgive me if I made any mistake, I feel my knowledge of the English language is abandoning me… ;o) I love reading your blog anyway!

  • This is very interesting. Back in school, I was taught that it was compulsory to put an apostrophe right after a name that ends with an ‘s’ as in “Chris’ opinion”. It always puts me into doubt whenever i see anything contradicting what i was taught while reading books and newspapers. What The Gregg Reference Manual recommends is very convincing. Pronunciation is to be taken as a factor for placing the s after an apostrophe. But then again, it does depend upon person to person. Thank you a lot for bringing this interesting topic up.

  • Ken, thanks for commenting. If you like the approach of “The Gregg Reference Manual,” you will use “Chris’s opinion.” Right? I can’t imagine dropping that second syllable when pronouncing the phrase.

    Lynn

  • Dear Lynn, I recently stumbled upon your blog upon my Professor’s request on learning about writing tips. Needless to say (or type rather), I have learnt plenty so far.

    Regarding the post: what approach have you observed being used the most? Here I where I study it’s a mix between the AP and Gregg approach. I my self seem to be using the former, it coincides with what I learnt during my school days.

    Thanks!

  • Sreehari, I see people applying the rules many different ways. But probably, as where you are, the AP and Gregg approaches are most common.

    Please extend my thanks to your professor for sending you here.

    Lynn

  • How would you manage the plural possessive of “Charles”, as in, “We went to the Charleses’ for dinner last week”?

    The above is my best guess, but, since “Charles” is my married surname, I’m pretty embarrassed not to be sure what would be most correct.

  • Mrs. Charles,

    You are correct. You can also eliminate the apostrophe by saying “We had dinner with the Charleses last week at their home.”

    It would be easier to use your first names, for example, “We had dinner with Beth and John Charles last week.”

    Lynn

  • A apostrophe only, no additional S is the correct form.
    Grammar illiterates made the mistake and don’t want to be blasted.
    I’m calling you on it.
    Stop scrambling and back-pedaling.
    Just do it right from now on.

  • Hi Lynn,

    I was just posting something on Facebook about Bernie Sanders’ (or Bernie Sanders’s) comments on Trump’s speech last night. I started getting confused about how to use the apostrophe and decided to check it out on the internet. It took me to your blog! Thank you for clarifying this. I had no idea it was so complicated. I decided to use Sanders’ because it is easier to pronounce. My mother would have loved your blog. She was an English teacher, and I grew up having my English corrected! Thanks so much.

  • Hi Lynn,

    I need to find an alternative for the Gregg manual for one of my classes assignment. Would you please recommend me one of them. Thanks.

  • Depending on the type of manual you want, these are good possibilities for you to check out online:

    –Garner’s Modern English Usage
    –The Associated Press Stylebook (2017)
    –The Microsoft Manual of Style
    –The Chicago Manual of Style

    Lynn

  • What about… Abdulaziz’ homework or Abdulaziz’s homework? To explain, I’m an ESL teacher and he’s a student.

  • Hi Jason,

    The answer is the same: It depends on which style you use.

    “The Associated Press Stylebook”: Abdulaziz’ homework
    “The Gregg Reference Manual”: Abdulaziz’ homework (so it’s not more difficult to pronounce)
    “The Chicago Manual of Style,” “Microsoft Manual of Style,” and “Garner’s Modern American Usage”: Abdulaziz’s homework

    Lynn

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