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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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October 02, 2018


Kelly at Twentysomething Vision

Hi Lynn, I'd love to hear your thoughts on another apostrophe catastrophe: Elvis' or Elvis's birthday ?

It's a possessive noun ending in "s." I've seen this written both ways, and in research it seems like the addition s is the "right" way, but I'm still unsure. I prefer the additional s, "Elvis's," and I am curious what your thoughts are, if there's an official rule for this.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Kelly,

Great question. Like you, I would use "Elvis's birthday." However, different style guides--for example, "The Associated Press Stylebook"--recommend different approaches. "AP" recommends "Elvis' birthday."

You can read more here:

I've added the link to the list above.

Thanks for asking.


George Raymond

Sometimes the possessed thing is implicit, as in: I've still got to stop by the Joneses'.




I had an interesting situation yesterday relating to plural nouns ending in s. We in intended to invite both "Chrises". Three people had three opinions, how to refer to two employees named Chris in a memo. Examples offered include Chris', Chris's, Chrises. I believe the third example is correct; would appreciate your explanation. You words carry a lot of weight in the office.

Jennifer Brown


I have an apostrophe question. When addressing a family on an envelope, should it be written The Johnson's or The Johnsons? Thank you for your help with this!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi George,

Your sentence is correct.

Example: I've still got to stop by the Joneses' to return the ladder.

We use the possessive because we are implying "the Joneses' house."

In contrast, this form is not possessive: I am glad the Joneses let us borrow their ladder.

Thanks for the question.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi John,

You are right. Two Chrises were invited to the event. That's a plural form--not a possessive.

Regarding the other suggestions, both Chris' and Chris's are simple singular possessives.

Here's an interesting variation: Both Chrises' cars were ticketed by the police. That example is plural and possessive.

I hope my response settles things at work.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Jennifer,

You do not need an apostrophe with the name on the envelope. "The Johnsons" is a plural that refers to everyone in the family. It is not possessive.


Virginia Sowell

Hi Lynn,

What is the preferred form of the term, All Saints Day? Would we need to put an apostrophe after the T, after the S, or not at all?

Thank you,


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Virginia,

Because "Saints" is plural, the correct rendering is "All Saints' Day."

I double-checked "The Gregg Reference Manual," which includes that entry in its list of holidays with possessive forms.


Yvonne van Grondelle

Hi Lynn,

Not being a native English speaker I stumbled over the 4th sentence: "All the family members' memorabilia was gathered into a slide show."

Isn't memorabilia the subject? And if so I think it is plural and therefore 'was' must be 'were'. Otherwise I don't understand this sentence. Could you please explain? T

Thank you. I really enjoy your posts.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Yvonne,

You are absolutely right! Thank you for spotting that error. I have corrected it.


Jon B.

I'd suggest your memorabilia sentence was actually correct the first time. If you replace memorabilia with a similar word such as "stuff" or "library" or "collection" you can seen that it has to be "was". Memorabilia here acts as a single item IMHO.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Jon,

I checked the dictionary after receiving Yvonne's comment. She is correct that "memorabilia" is plural. Other similar words--the ones you suggested--are indeed singular and take singular verbs, but that's not the case with "memorabilia."

Thanks for stopping by.


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