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7.56 Possession

The primary use of the apostrophe is to indicate possession. A word which does not end in a sibilant (s or z sound) forms the possessive by the addition of ’s:

  • a dog’s breakfast
  • Toronto’s CN Tower

To form the possessive of French words ending in a non-sibilant s or x, add an ’s:

  • Duplessis’s cabinet
  • Malraux’s art

Note that it is the pronunciation, not the spelling, which determines the possessive form. The word conscience ends in a sibilant; Illinois does not. Plural forms which do not end in a sibilant are no exception to the general rule:

  • women’s
  • children’s

Plurals ending in a sibilant take only the apostrophe:

  • the ministers’ responsibilities
  • developing countries’ needs

Regarding the appropriate form for singular words that end in a sibilant, pronunciation is again the determining factor. If it would be natural to pronounce an extra s, add ’s; if an additional s would be difficult to pronounce, add only an apostrophe:

  • Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Ulysses’ wanderings
  • Brussels’ bureaucrats
  • the boss’s office

Since awkwardness of pronunciation is the basic criterion, the decision to add or omit a possessive s ultimately depends on the writer’s own sensitivities. One option is to rephrase:

  • the tourist industry of Mauritius
  • the ramblings of Joyce’s Ulysses

rather than

  • Mauritius’ tourist industry
  • Joyce’s Ulysses’ ramblings