Q. I have a question about the possessive of a plural acronym, but where the plural is only evident in the term’s full name, not the acronym. The acronym in question is “HHS,” for (Department of) “Health and Human Services.” In the following sentence fragment, should one write HHS’s or HHS’?: “There was no better test of [HHS’s/HHS’] commitment to its mission than . . .” Thank you!
A. Treat an initialism like “HHS” as singular regardless of whether it has a plural or a singular antecedent. (Note that CMOS uses “initialism” for an abbreviation pronounced as a series of letters, like “HHS,” and “acronym” when it is pronounced as a word, like “NASA.”) To take a similar example, one would write “the United States’ allies” (following the rules for forming the possessive of a noun that’s plural in form but singular in meaning; see CMOS 7.20) but, using the initialism, “the US’s allies.” Likewise, it would be correct to write “the Department of Health and Human Services’ commitment” but “HHS’s commitment.”
Q. How would you make “news” possessive? It would seem that you would recommend just an apostrophe (as in CMOS 7.20), but that doesn’t quite make sense to me, since I would pronounce the possessive with an extra s, as in “the news’s problem” or “The Daily News’s new editor.” I’m sorry if you’ve covered this question already, but when I tried searching CMOS I didn’t find anything.
A. Merriam-Webster says that “news” is “plural in form but singular in construction, often attributive.” It’s that “singular in construction” that governs the answer—which agrees with yours: “the news’s problem.” In other words, the possessive follows the rule for singular nouns. Compare “politics,” which is “plural in form but singular or plural in construction.” That word not only looks like a plural (“plural in form”) but can also act like one (“plural in construction”), so an apostrophe alone is used: “politics’ true meaning.” We hope to cover this distinction in a future edition of CMOS.
Q. My sister-in-law recently claimed that the card we get from the DMV that allows us to legally drive is supposed to be referred to as a “driver license” instead of a “driver’s license.” I would love to hear your input as this has been bothering me for a few weeks now!
A. In about thirty US states, from Alabama to Nevada to Wyoming, the term printed on the license itself is “driver license.” In about twenty others, from Arkansas to Maryland to West Virginia, it’s “driver’s license.” (The term is usually, but not always, in all capital letters.) But according to the entry in Merriam-Webster, each of these would be a “driver’s license.”
Incidentally, the DMVs in some of the states that issue a “driver license” refer to it on their websites as a “driver’s license”—and vice versa. Our editors would default to “driver’s license” in each case—including for Indiana, where the card itself says “operator license.” This advice isn’t universal, however. In the UK, for example, it’s usually called a “driving licence”—according to Merriam Webster, the OED, and GOV.UK.
Q. How do I refer to the burgers at McDonald’s, given that the name already has a possessive apostrophe ess in it? If I say “McDonald’s burgers” then that is just burgers belonging to McDonald, but “McDonald’s’s burgers” feels wrong to me.
A. A possessive name like McDonald’s applies not only to the business itself but to anything it produces and anyone it serves. So McDonald’s restaurants sell McDonald’s hamburgers to McDonald’s customers. And though double cheeseburgers are a thing, double possessives are not (except, technically, in a phrase like “a friend of mine”; see CMOS 7.26).
Q. George Wilkens is a character in my novel. (Yes, I know I should have named him something without an “s” as the last letter!) My question is, Which is correct: “George Wilkens’s house” or “George Wilkens’ house”? After a study of several different sections of CMOS, I think that the former is correct. Can you verify that for me? Thanks.
A. You are right. Chicago adds an apostrophe and an s to form the possessive of most singular nouns, including singular nouns that end in s—a rule that extends to proper names. Plural nouns, including plural names, add an apostrophe only. (See CMOS 7.16 and 7.17.) To clarify these rules, let’s compare two different Georges, one who spells his last name with an s and one who doesn’t:
George Wilkens: George Wilkens’s house [singular possessive]; the house where the Wilkens family lives; the Wilkenses’ house [plural possessive; Wilkenses is the plural of Wilkens]
George Wilken: George Wilken’s house [singular possessive]; the house where the Wilken family lives; the Wilkens’ house [plural possessive; Wilkens is the plural of Wilken]
Though Chicago’s rules are logical on paper, a name like Wilkens—which looks and sounds like a plural—can be confusing no matter how it’s treated. To avoid complicating things even more, maybe don’t give George a French pal named Georges (the possessive of which would be Georges’s; see CMOS 7.18).
Q. It just occurred to me that “Achilles’ heel” is wrong, according to CMOS 7.17. It should be “Achilles’s heel,” right?
A. Technically, yes: “Achilles’ heel” is contrary to Chicago style, which would call for “Achilles’s heel.” CMOS 7.19 addresses the issue directly: “Classical proper names of two or more syllables that end in an eez sound form the possessive in the usual way (though when these forms are spoken, the additional s is generally not pronounced).” For example, “Euripides’s tragedies.” But like Achilles’s mother, we failed to cover “Achilles’ heel,” a term that therefore remains vulnerable to stylistic ambiguity. Thankfully, Merriam-Webster is there to shield us from the arrows of editorial uncertainty. We defer to that resource and consider “Achilles’ heel” as an established exception to Chicago style.
Q. We are adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day to our company calendar. Is the apostrophe appropriate, as with Presidents’ Day, or no apostrophe, as in Veterans Day?
A. According to CMOS 7.27, “Although terms denoting group ownership or participation sometimes appear without an apostrophe (i.e., as an attributive rather than a possessive noun), Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names (often corporate names) that do not officially include one.” So, absent any officially sanctioned spelling for the holiday, we would write “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
If you compare named days that involve an irregular plural, you’ll see that it’s not a simple matter of possession versus attribution. There’s a Children’s Day and a Women’s Day and a Men’s Day—but try that without the possessive (Men Day?). Hence Chicago’s preference for the possessive.
As for “Presidents’ Day,” according to Title V, section 6103, of the United States Code (which covers federal holidays and is usually cited as 5 U.S.C. § 6103), that holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday but has been expanded to honor other presidents. “Presidents’ Day” demonstrates Chicago style, legal name or not. Veterans Day is also named in Title V, without the apostrophe, and because it’s official, that’s how we style it when referring to the national holiday in the United States.
Which brings us back to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. If you’re following Chicago style, use the apostrophe. If you’re following Associated Press style (and the AP Stylebook), leave it out. But where the holiday is official (as it now is in many states in the US), follow whatever the official style might be. For example, in North Carolina it’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but in Maine it’s Indigenous Peoples Day (no apostrophe).
Q. I understand CMOS’s position on this, but I need help with my argument. Our company’s acronym is singular and ends in an S, just like CMOS. I want to write it with an apostrophe s when needing possession, but others want to use only the apostrophe, as in CMOS’. I need help with my argument with my boss. Thank you.
A. Unlike a personal name that ends in an s (e.g., Harris), an all-caps acronym like CMOS (pronounced SEE-moss) doesn’t even have the appearance of a plural; the s that signals a plural ending is normally lowercase. (A company with two chief marketing officers would have two CMOs, not two CMOS.) So even if you followed a style that prefers Harris’ reputation to Harris’s reputation, an expression like TASS’ headquarters (for the Russian news agency) would risk being misread, whereas TASS’s headquarters is perfectly clear. The same could be said for an initialism, which is pronounced as a series of letters: CBS’s newscasts is more clearly possessive than CBS’ newscasts. We sincerely hope you manage to win your argument (and keep your s).
Q. Good morning! I want to know, should it be “farmers’ market” or “farmers market”? I see everything out there, including “farmer’s market.” Anyway, just a seasonal curiosity for you all!
A. We prefer “farmers’ market.” In Merriam-Webster, “farmers market,” “farmers’ market,” and “farmer’s market” are all listed, in that order, as equal variants (separated by “or”). M-W is descriptive—its entries reflect what it finds in published sources. Clearly, the lexicographers at M-W are seeing what you’re seeing. Normally Chicago would advise opting for the first-listed term in M-W. But for terms like “farmers’ market” that denote group ownership or participation, opting for the plural possessive will help you to maintain editorial consistency across like terms. For more advice, see CMOS 7.27.
Q. In reply to the question of whether it should be “the Rangers hockey game” or “the Rangers’ hockey game,” you basically said that both are acceptable but the former is slightly preferred. I’d like to point out two things that make the former even more preferable. (1) The Rangers play more than one hockey game (and more than one per season), so you can never attend the Rangers hockey game, but only a Rangers hockey game. (2) A hockey game isn’t really a possession of the Rangers like their rink, but is rather an event (something incorporeal) that is merely highly associated with the Rangers, and whose association with the Rangers is only 50 percent (the other 50 percent of the association is with the opposing team).
A. Thank you for these thoughts! Let me point out a few things in reply. (1) Of course you can attend “the Rangers hockey game.” If I say, “Last night we went to the Rangers hockey game,” I’m referring to the game that was held last night. (2) The genitive indicated by apostrophe + s serves many purposes besides literal possession. Please see CMOS 5.20 for examples. (3) You might have misread our answer; in fact, CMOS 7.27 says, “If in doubt, choose the plural possessive.”