Monday, May 7, 2007

Jesus' Moses' Isis' What???

The Forgotten Theory of . . .
Possessive and Plural Possessive

Our investigators have been working hard scrounging through dusty tomes for the following forgotten theory on strange and obfuscating rules of the use of plural possessive. (Okay, we really just shamelessly stole it from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style).

The normal rule follows: possessive add ('s) i.e. “Frank’s car is in the garage.”

However, the forgotten exception rule is:
Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names ending in –es and –is, the possessive Jesus', and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake. But such forms as Moses’ Laws, Isis’ temple are commonly replaced by:
the laws of Moses
the temple of Isis
Clearly, this is so confusing and hard to remember that they make the suggestion to simply change the word order. So why have the rule? We have no clue. We only find these things. Under no circumstances do we claim to have knowledge of why they are so. Why are “conscience” and “righteousness” considered to be in the same category as ancient proper names? And why “conscience” when it doesn’t even end in an “s”? Obviously, Prof. Strunk did not come to the Writing Center before he published The Elements of Style.

Rumor has it that there is also, somewhere in the ether of lost knowledge and forgotten theories, an obscure rule along this nature that has something to do with what syllable in a word is stressed or unstressed, but we are still looking into this matter.


Vanth said...

My question is, would Gollum say hobbitses' or hobbitses's?

Miss Malaprop said...

Neither. We are talking about possessives here *not* plural. It seems that in Gollum-speak the references to "hobbits" has more to do with plural hobbits (i.e. more than one hobbit) rather that what belongs to the hobbits (posessive). The phrase "nice little hobbitses" comes to mind. This phrase is simply referring to more than one hobbit (presumably Frodo and Sam). To add the apostrophe anywhere here would be just plain wrong. We suggest that you schedule an appointment at the writing center to help clarify these matters.