Q. Should the possessive form of Los Angeles include the extra s? As a Spanish term, the city’s name is a singular noun, plural in form, but if we consider it fully anglicized, does it then count as a regular singular? Or does the plural form carry through?
A. It’s true that city names that include a plural word in English can drop the extra s when forming the possessive: Twin Groves’ population. But city names are by default singular (Twin Groves is a small city), and a guideline for styling non-English names in English should not depend on a writer’s knowledge of their meaning in the original language. Thus the possessive of Los Angeles in Chicago style follows the guidelines for singular possessives in English: Los Angeles’s.
Q. I’m on a team editing kids’ textbooks. One book includes a poster showing shapes (circle, square, triangle). Should this be referred to as a shapes poster? Is it an example of the genitive case 4 (at CMOS 5.20), requiring an apostrophe: shapes’ poster? If not, is it a temporary compound noun? Could it be written either way, based on personal preference? Does genitive case 7 help at all? A poster of shapes = shapes’ poster.
A. No apostrophe is needed because shapes is an attributive noun. “A shapes poster” is grammatically akin to “a commodities trader” and “a weapons dump” in containing a noun (singular or plural) that is used attributively as an adjective (shapes, commodities, weapons). You can read about attributive nouns at CMOS 5.24, “Nouns as Adjectives.”
Q. I think there’s a contradiction in your examples of the correct use of apostrophes. CMOS 7.20 states that in the case of a place-name ending with “s,” the “s’s” formation is not used; e.g., the United States’. However, 7.17 uses Kansas’s as an example of proper usage. Is that correct?
A. Kansas’s is indeed correct. The tricky part of paragraph 7.20 says to omit the extra s from place-names ending in s “with a plural form,” and Kansas doesn’t qualify as a plural form, even though it happens to end in s (singular Kansas; plural Kansases; there is no singular Kansa). The form of States, in contrast, is plural (singular state; plural states), even though the proper noun United States is singular. Plural forms ending in s take an apostrophe without a second s, whether the word is singular or plural: the United States’ reputation. But singular forms like Kansas take that second s, and thus it’s Kansas’s.
Q. When referring to the left or right side of a vehicle, is the adjective possessive or attributive? Is the proper form “driver’s-side door” or “driver-side door”?
A. You get to decide! Both are fine.
Q. This question has probably been asked before, but at work we are updating the human resources manual and nobody seems to know the answer. Is the apostrophe necessary in “two weeks’ notice” and “three days’ sick leave”? We will really appreciate your advice.
A. Yes, it has been asked before! Luckily for you, we are the soul of patience. The apostrophe is necessary, since those phrases express a type of possessive. Please see CMOS 7.25.
Q. For our work editing projects, we have had a long-standing debate over the wording “renters insurance” (as a concept). There seems to be no industry standard with regard to using an apostrophe. Which should it be? Renters’ insurance, renter’s insurance, renters insurance.
A. All those forms are fine, but Chicago prefers the plural possessive. Please see CMOS 7.27.
Q. When referring to “the corps” as in the Army Corps of Engineers or the Peace Corps, what is the proper possessive form? For example, is it “the corps’ decision” or “the corps’s decision?”
A. Use corps’. Please see CMOS 7.19 [16th ed.] for the possessive of nouns that are plural in form, singular in meaning.
—Editors’ update in response to a reader’s query:
Q. With regard to this Q&A, I believe you have misanalyzed the meaning and etymology of the singular word corps.
You give a solution based on CMOS 7.19, but actually CMOS 7.16 applies to singular words ending in silent s (e.g., corps, Illinois, Jacques, rendezvous, chamois). CMOS 7.19 refers to words that are plural in form but singular in meaning. However, words like corps or chamois are not plural in form. The word corps, for example, is singular in both form and meaning. It comes from the French le corps. The s on the end is from the original Latin spelling corpus, which is also singular. The s does not signify plural and never has. (The Latin plural is corpora.) We use the invariable plural form that French does in spelling, but in English the singular is pronounced /kor/ and the plural, which happens to be spelled the same, is pronounced /korz/. Thus, by CMOS 7.16, the possessive forms should arguably be “the corps’s plan” (singular) and “the many corps’ plans” (plural).
A. Sigh—you are right. We slipped up with this one. Thank you so much for letting us know! We depend on our readers to keep us on our toes.
Q. How would this be punctuated correctly? “The AZ Group of Companies’, comprising ABC Machine Company, DEF Machine Company, and GHI Corporation, mission is to provide . . .” or “The AZ Group of Companies,’ comprising ABC Machine Company, DEF Machine Company, and GHI Corporation, mission is to provide . . .”? I’m writing a brochure and can’t find it anywhere online.
A. Forgive the bluntness, but you will never find this online, because no one would ever write it either way. Please rewrite it—there are many better ways. Here are two suggestions:
The mission of the AZ Group of Companies, comprising ABC etc., is to provide . . .
The mission of the AZ Group of Companies (ABC etc.) is to provide . . .
Q. How would you punctuate factor(s) to show both singular and plural possessive? The sentence reads “This results in the factor(s) outcome(s) being misread.”
A. The factor(’s/s’) outcome(s)? The factor’s/factors’ outcome/outcomes? The factor(s)’(s) outcome(s)? The possibilities are all so fun it’s hard to choose just one! Seriously, just rewrite the sentence. This isn’t copping out—your sentence is hopeless. Often it’s not even necessary to indicate the singular/plural alternatives. “This results in misreading factor outcomes” applies to one or more factors.
Q. CMOS 7.17 cites “Kansas’s legislature” as an example, whereas 7.20 has “the United States’ role” as another. Am I correct to use “Paris’s sights,” “Philippines’ sights,” and “Seychelles’ sights” under 7.20? Could I also conclude that 7.17 is used mainly for states (like Kansas and Texas) in a country (like the US) and 7.20 strictly for countries?
A. The distinction is not between states and countries, but between names with a singular form (Paris, Kansas, Cyprus, Barbados) and nouns that take a plural form although they are singular in meaning (United States, Seychelles, Chicago Heights, Philippines). The singular forms make the possessive with the addition of an apostrophe and an s (Paris’s, Kansas’s, Cyprus’s, Barbados’s); for nouns with a plural form, add only the apostrophe for the possessive (United States’, Seychelles’, Philippines’).