Possessives and Attributives

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.