On Writing: Obsessed by Possessives

wood person people office Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

I know. I know. I have my share of typos and grammatical errors. Some things that I’m obsessed about not doing, I still manage to do anyway. OMGosh. I can find myself typing it’s when I meant the possessive its. Egads! I hate that.

Today I turn to my favorite Elements of Style for a quick refresher.

Guess what? William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s first chapter “Elementary Rules of Usage” addresses possessive nouns in rule #1.

I see it all the time:

Charles’s friend written as Charles’ friend.

Incorrect according to Elements of Style.

However, Strunck and White do allow for some ancient diversions from their #1 Rule:

Moses’ Law is okay.
So is Isis’ Temple.

Still, their preference is to write these as Law of Moses and Temple of Isis.

If the noun is plural, yes, the apostrophe is alone with no following s.

planets’ orbits’
players’ coach
children’s teacher

Notice the last one. In this case children is already plural, so children’s is correct, not childrens‘.

What about joint possession? Should it be Ben’s and Jerry’s or Ben and Jerry’s?

Well, that depends on whether there’s joint or individual possession.

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (the ice cream belongs to both of them.)
Ben’s and Jerry’s skis. (Assuming they each have their own pair of skis.)
Cheryl, Carol, and Caryn’s group project.
Cheryl’s, Carol’s, and Caryn’s projects.

I’m bothered by single letters or numbers apostrophasized.

Okay, I made up that last word. I just think it’s a quirky trend to change nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns.

Nit-picky-me has an issue. Should it be Cross all your Ts and dot all your Is? or Cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s? My preference is the first example because there is no possession. According to the Modern Language Association guidelines convention varies on this one. Still, I learned something while consulting my resources. The letter should be italicized, while the s remains unitalicized. So:

Cross all your Ts and dot all your Is.
is as correct as,
Cross all your T‘s and dot all your I‘s.

Maybe it’s just my eyes, but I have a difficult time discerning whether the s is italicized or not. If there’s more than one letter, i.e. an abbreviation, no need to italicize. (For example, PhDs, MAs.)

Geesh! One more thing I never even thought about.

If‘s, and‘s, or but‘s or Ifs, ands, or buts.

Either one is okay according to The Modern Language Association. But, be sure to italicize the word and not the final Ss. I prefer leaving out the apostrophe, simply because there’s no possession.

So here’s an example of all of that rolled into one:

In the 1990s, not even people with MDs and high IQs could resist Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. However, Janice’s and Dallas’s philosophies varied on why their favorite flavor is the best.

Good Golly! No wonder English is such a difficult language.

Okay, that was a somewhat fun diversion. Now I’m back to Eldie’s story, which happens to include Dallas’s and Ephraim’s stories, too.