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When someone has more than one master’s degree, should these be described as have several masters’ degrees or several master’s degrees?

In other words, which of these two applies:

  • (singular) a master’s degree > (plural) several master’s degrees
  • (singular) a master’s degree > (plural) several masters’ degrees

Please note that this is a different question from what this has been marked as a duplicate of. That addresses the question for the singular. This question is about the plural case. There is definitely an apostrophe, but the question is where it should go.

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marked as duplicate by coleopterist, MετάEd, Rory Alsop, tchrist, Kris Feb 28 '13 at 9:19

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
That addresses the question for the singular. This question is about the plural case. There is definitely an apostrophe, but the question is where it should go. –  Michael Hoffman Feb 27 '13 at 17:57
    
It's easier to simply assume the degree and say He has three MA's or He has 3 Master's. And that's the way I punctuate it, to force Master into the same mold as MA, as a single unit. There is no standard for details like this in English punctuation, because there is practically no standard for English punctuation. More correctly, there are many, many standards to choose from, all contradictory; sort of like phone companies. –  John Lawler Feb 27 '13 at 18:01
    
@MichaelHoffman Good point. I was too hasty. While I can't take back my close vote, I've deleted the "possible duplicate" comment. My apologies. –  coleopterist Feb 27 '13 at 18:02
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I have six Masters' degrees. And five of them are suing me to get them back. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '13 at 19:50
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The correct answer can be inferred from a hypothetical parallel situation. Suppose there were such a thing as a “postman’s knock”. If you heard a postman’s knock repeated thrice over, you would still have heard three postman’s knocks, not three *postmen’s knocks. Thus the correct answer is that we do not change the possessive into a plural simply due to having pluralized the noun it applies to. They are separate things. In other words, three different MySpace accounts do not an OurSpace account make. :) –  tchrist Mar 1 '13 at 0:16

3 Answers 3

I assume that Master's is in the possessive form because in the phrase "I have a Master's degree", it indicates that the degree is one possessed by a master. If that's the case, then the right form for plurality should be: "I have three Master's degrees", because in each case, there is only one master in possession of the degree: you're not talking about more than one master per degree, you're talking about more than one degree, each possessed by one Master.

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I generally advise simply rephrasing the sentence to avoid the situation in which it could be questioned, and drop the "degrees" descriptor unless doing so would make the reference to master's unclear.

Having a sentence that doesn't even create the situation in which the question would even arise is particularly important for matters like fiction, where a question could potentially break up the intended pace of the text by creating a snag for the reader to trip over.

Master's appears to me, in this case, as an adjective (and not governed by pluralization) describing an implied degree, regardless of whether degree(s) is present such as with blue truck and blue trucks.

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Welcome to English Language & Usage. Answers should be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise. Basically we depend on verifiability a lot like Wikipedia does. Can you most kindly edit your answer to supply supporting information. Thanks. –  MετάEd Feb 27 '13 at 18:54
    
I already suggested rephrasing the original sentence but I am still curious about this question. –  Michael Hoffman Feb 27 '13 at 19:27

The MA denotes a Master of Arts degree. You can say,"I have a Master's degree" for short. If you are clever enough to earn more than one, you can say you have two Master of Arts degrees, two MA's or two Master's Degrees. I only have one.

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Just like the first one, earning more than one requires not cleverness but mere diligence. –  tchrist Feb 28 '13 at 1:25

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