Back to basics: forming plural possessives

Every time I think it’s useless to rehash basic GUMmy stuff, something happens to prove me wrong. This time it was seeing an incorrectly formed plural possessive of a proper noun in a published children’s book.

I saw red.

So, I’m writing what’s sure to become the first in an informal series on the basics. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

First, let’s talk about plural formation. There are two basic types: regular and irregular. A regular plural simply adds -s or -es to the singular form, like this:



An irregular plural sometimes changes the form of the noun, like this:




But sometimes, it doesn’t change at all.



Now, what if we need to form a possessive of those plurals?

Well, for the regularly formed plurals, we only have to add an apostrophe. That’s how it’s done. Honest. Just an apostrophe.

houses’ (as in “All those houses’ exteriors will be repainted according to the HOA’s specifications”)

cars’ (as in “Their cars’ bumpers were torn off in the collision”)

But for the irregularly formed plurals, we need to add an apostrophe and an S.

geese’s (as in “The geese’s diet was organic”)

mice’s (as in “The mice’s blood was sampled every six hours”)

dice’s (as in “The dice’s results were suspect”)

deer’s (as in “The three deer’s hides were tanned behind the cabin”)

moose’s (as in “I heard those moose’s bellows from all the way down by the river”)

Now, what about a proper term, like Taino? That’s the name of the indigenous people Columbus met when he landed in 1492. In the free version of the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, it states that the plural is either “Taino” or “Tainos.” The first one’s irregular (the form doesn’t change at all), and the second is regular (just adding an S). Form the possessives according to the rules: Taino’s OR Tainos’. Context helps the reader know when “Taino’s” is plural. (And if it doesn’t, it should.)

Similarly, if your surname is Dickens, a number of you are the Dickenses. Together, all of you live in the Dickenses’ house. (Sure, you can say “there’s the Dickens house,” but the meaning’s not the same, and it totally misses the point of this post.) It’s a regular plural that adds -es to the singular form, so you use only an apostrophe to form the plural possessive. We’re the Conlins. Our house is the Conlins’ house. Regularly formed plural takes only an apostrophe.

There are no stylistic variations for forming plural possessives. This isn’t a guideline; it’s a rule.

There you have the basics. Remember, this is only for plural possessives. If we need a refresher on forming possessives of proper names like “James,” I’ll cover that in a separate post. (Hint: there are stylistic variations for forming proper singular possessives.)

It’s horrific, but not the way they’d like

So I’m watching my Twitter feed this afternoon and I see John Scalzi’s Tweets about some cute Goth girl, and a couple of links. I dutifully clickity-click on one of them and I see . . .


As with my post about Cooperstown’s menus, I won’t attempt to enumerate the problems on this site. I’ll just let you folks wander around alone in the dark (it’s a really dark site–the background’s black, dark purple, and green–but at least the type is white) and find the horrors for yourselves.

This is just one more case where a copy editor/proofreader would have helped more than the site owners can even imagine (I think–perhaps they can imagine how much, but I have a feeling they can’t). Seriously, there are typos on every page I looked at. Now, okay, I understand that this is a public-access show, but still, people; hire a proofreader before you slap your copy up on a website, please? That way you won’t have egregious errors like “Sheboygen,” or “synopsis’s” (again with the apostrophe-s masquerading as a plural? Again?) or any of the others I found that I’m sure you will find as well.

I’ve half a mind to Contact Them and offer to proof their site, to bring their quality up a notch. Only half a mind, though. This is a horror movie show, y’know?