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Re: plural possessive question
- Subject: Re: plural possessive question
- From: "Michael Edwards" mje@xxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 16:06:14 +1100
Perhaps I might have a go at this one.
>May I pose a question to the grammarians on the list? I am one of those who
>strongly cling to the convervative view that nearly every plural possessive
>must have an apostrophe-s (i.e., CBS's, etc.).
Yes - but I think possibly you mean singular possessive which ends in "s";
plural possessives are usually s-apostrophe - "the boys' games", not "the boys's
games", which I've never seen, and would consider incorrect.
But allowing for the typo I think you made, I don't see how else those
possessives can be expressed. So what would the non-conservative view be on
this? Perhaps that's just a phrase which covers the various incorrect uses (or
non-uses) of apostrophes which abound nowadays.
>My question, or rather my
>several questions, have to do with the New York Court of Appeals and the US
>Court of Appeals of (for example) the Second Circuit.
>Is it proper (and consistent with the principle expressed above) to write,
>"... the New York Court of Appeals's most recent discussion of vicarious
>liability in ..." ? Somehow it doesn't sound quite right.
>Should the s be dropped in this case? Would this be an exception to the
>general rule? Or should the s after the apostrophe be retained at any cost?
I would say "the New York Court of Appeals' most recent discussion...".
The New York Court of Appeals may not be plural, but the last word of its
name is, so I would treat it like a plural possessive.
Even if you deemed the phrase as a whole to be singular (which it is, of
course), and felt the possessive must be singular, too, there are occasions when
a singular possessive consists of just an apostrophe. For instance, I
understand you always write "Jesus'", "Socrates'", not "Jesus's" or
"Socrates's". So saying "Appeals'", without the "s", could still be
a singular possessive for the entire phrase. (But you *do* say "James's" or
"Jones's" - so I don't quite understand why the difference there.)
Anyway, however you reason out the logic, I would never say "Appeals's" in
a context like you mention. And I don't see it as an exception to any rule, but
just normal, standard practice.
>Similarly, what happens when you have to write about them both? For
>example, "both the New York and US Courts of Appeals have ruled ..."
Another approach might be to name them separately, thus: "both the New York
Court of Appeals and the US Court of Appeals". Yes, I know it's wordy and
perhaps needlessly repeats parts of the titles. Worth considering, perhaps.
But I don't really see anything wrong with what you've just written. Or, if the
Cournts have been named before, how about just "both the Courts"?
(However, I would myself write "U.S.", rather than "US" - but I guess
that's another question. I've actually noticed that Americans usually keep
full-stops in abbreivations like this, whereas Australians and British (I'm in
Australia) tend to drop them - incorrectly, in my view, or at least less
clearly. Less clearly, because, in reading it, I would tend to try to read (and
maybe, for an instant, mentally pronounce) such an abbreviation as a word
without the full-stops to mark it as an abbreviation. So I follow U.S. practice
in this, even though that's not where I live.)
>Here, I would prefer to say, "Courts of Appeal" -- but, reasoning that the
>title of both courts is "Court of Appeals" I find myself doubting that that
>would be correct.
I think you have to use their proper titles *exactly*, especially if you
are writing in an official or public context.
>And then, whichever we decide is correct, what would be proper
>if we wanted to make both courts possessive? "The New York and US Courts of
>Appeals' rulings ..."
I guess you could do that, although I feel a touch of unease, for a reason
it takes a bit of thinking to work out. Although you are using the wording of
the Courts' names here, you are in fact merging them, as well as making one of
the words plural when in fact the word in singular in both titles; and "Courts
of Appeals" is becoming a descriptive phrase rather than the title of the
Courts. My guess is that, if you want to be really pedantic, the names of the
Courts have to be given quite separately. On the other hand, you can reword a
descriptive phrase any way you please, as well as possibly remove the upper-case
I suppose what you wrote above could be justified this way: "Court of
Appeals" could be taken as an official, but more generic, title of a type of
court, and you could surely pluralize that; "New York" and "US" could then be
regarded as qualifiers naming which Courts of Appeals are being referred to.
>Well, in that case, I suppose it would be better to
>say, "the rulings of etc." and avoid the problem that way.
I would be inclined to do it that way. If both the courts have been named
fully earlier on, I suppose you could say "both the Appeals Courts' rulings", or
(even briefer) "both the Courts' rulings", or something like that.
>Anyway, I would greatly appreciate an authoritative answer on or off list.
I'm not an authority, and I'm not a professional writer; but I'm a person
who cares about getting such things right, and about correctness and (even more)
clarity of writing; and I have read many books on grammar, style, and so on. I
felt that was enough that I might have a few useful ideas on the question.
Authorities themselves differ on what's correct in some situations, and
it's clear that the correct way of doing many things is not nearly so unified
and monolithic as it might sometimes seem; so, in those cases where there are
different ways advocated, I choose the version I think to be most correct - that
is to say, most clear, self-consistent, logical, flowing well as words, and
economical insofar as is consistent with the other aims.