Rosie Right

Rosie's column on apostrophes seems to have struck a nerve. Others seem to be bemused by the problem of how to use them correctly (?) and how often they are used in a silly way.

By e-mail Jeff Johns asks:

"My last name is Johns, and as you can probably imagine, many mistakes are made regarding my name. How would you properly spell this last name in the plural, possessive, and plural possessive forms?"

Fortunately for Rosie's sanity, the AP Stylebook gives clear rules that Style follows:

"Singular proper names ending in S: Use only an apostrophe: Achilles' heel. …

"Plural nouns ending is S : Add only an apostrophe: the churches' needs, the girls' toys …

Plural of "proper names: Most ending in es or s or z add es: Charleses, Joneses, Gonzalezes… ."

The Washington Post's Bill Walsh agrees with the AP: "[D]espite the time-honored apostrophe style used by folks with woodburning kits who create signs for people's mailboxes and garages, the standard s or es plural applies to family names, even those that end with the letter s. So the Reynolds family is the Reynoldses. 'The Simpsons' occasionally portrays a ridiculous-sounding Homer calling the Flanders family next door the 'Flanderses,' but he is absolutely correct. And if you're implying a possessive, as in `Come on over to the Flanderses' for milk and cookies, use the apostrophe."

Rosie wishes everyone would follow the same "rules," but life isn't so simple. The New York Times writes Johns's for Johns in the possessive. Take youR choice!

Reader Gary A. Robertson comments:

"It is my belief that we, as readers, should not divine what the writer 'should' write. As we would not tell an artist that his choice of blue in the sky is wrong, so should we not tell a writer what he is saying.

"Working here in the East End I have the opportunity to see Millie's Diner and Poe's Pub every day. The sign on Millie's Diner simply reads 'Millie's,' indicating that the diner belongs to Millie, and that's fine. Poe's Pub on the other hand is named for Edgar Allan Poe, but does not belong to him; however, the owner chooses to call it Poe's Pub. I say, why not?

"If I put a sign in front of my house, it is my decision, not the reader of the sign, to decide how the sign should be written."

Mr. Robertson is correct in one way, but if he wanders too far from accepted practice he runs the risk of not being understood.


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