Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In the sentence:

The author was greatly in love with Annabel Lee and described their love for each other as greater than anyone elses’.

Does the apostrophe go before or after the s in else?

I'm always confused by the rules of using possession with plurals, so I looked online for a bit about the rules. From what I understand, you add the apostrophe after the s if the s makes the word plural, but before the s if it doesn't. In this case, elses refers to others in love, but MS Word says it's incorrect. Is it though?

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by Robusto, Mitch, FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Feb 28 '12 at 10:49

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The word else is never pluralized in English, since it is not a noun. –  Peter Shor Feb 28 '12 at 0:31
possible duplicate of What is the correct possessive for nouns ending in s? –  Robusto Feb 28 '12 at 0:36
@PeterShor You’re right, of course, but analysing anyone else’s is still problematic, since only nouns have a genitive case. –  tchrist Feb 28 '12 at 1:36
@Robusto: But else is not a noun. –  tchrist Feb 28 '12 at 1:37
I don't see the problem here - anyone else is simply a noun phrase, and there's nothing odd about appending a possessive 's to it, as per hundreds of thousands of written instances. It's just general reference. –  FumbleFingers Feb 28 '12 at 2:18

3 Answers 3

This is an odd case because it breaks the normal rules.

The normal English rule for possessives is: If the word is singular OR if it is a plural that does not end with "s", add apostrophe-s. If it is a plural that ends with "s", just add an apostrophe.


"one dog's bone" singular

"two dogs' bones" plural that ends in "s"

"one man's shirts" singular

"two men's shirts" plural that doesn't end in "s"

But here's where this case is odd. Normally we add the apostrophe-s or just apostrophe after a noun. But "else" is not a noun: it's an adjective. But it's an unusual adjective in that it comes after the noun. Usually we put adjectives before the noun. So when you make it possessive, in this case you put the apostrophe-s after an adjective. In such cases, you still indicate plural by making the NOUN plural, don't try to make the adjective plural. ("Anyone" is singular. I'm not sure that there's a plural of "anyone". "Anymany"?)

There are a few other examples in English where an adjective follows the noun. For example, in "attorney general" the noun is "attorney" and "general" is an adjective. That's "general" as in "not specific", not a military rank. So:

"one attorney general", "two attorneys general" To make it plural, add the "s" to the noun, not the adjective.

"one attorney general's office" Add the apostrophe-s to the end of the phrase, i.e. after the adjective.

"two attorneys general's offices" Add the "s" for plural to the noun. Then add an apostrophe-s for possessive to the end of the phrase.

Note: Many people make phrases like this plural by pluralizing the adjective, e.g. many make "mother-in-law" plural as "mother-in-laws". I'd say this is just wrong, but if you take the position that common usage is by definition correct, then this is probably well on its way to becoming correct. This is probably the biggest problem with the adjective "general", like "attorney general" and "consul general", because "general" can also be a noun and I suspect many people think a "consul general" is a general of type consul, rather than a consul of type general.

So "anyone else", "anyone else's".

Okay, long answer for a short question, but that's why they pay me the big bucks. Oh, wait ...

share|improve this answer

Before - anyone else's.

Anyone is a pronoun meaning a single person ("anyone is..."). "Else" modifies this to mean anyone other than the person or people mentioned. Even when it is a couple mentioned earlier in the sentence, "anyone" still means any single person aside from that couple. As a result, the apostrophe must go before the s to reflect the singular nature of the pronoun.

share|improve this answer
No, I really don’t think that that has anything to do with it. –  tchrist Feb 28 '12 at 1:39

The rule for making a possessive in English is to add an apostrophe. Always.

Then and only then, if when you pronounce the possessive form, you add an extra /ɨz/ at the end, then you put an extra s on it. Otherwise, you don’t.

So you start with else; make it possessive by adding an apostrophe: else’. Now, when you say “somebody else’s jacket”, for example, do you pronounce the bonus /ɨz/? Yes, you do. So you must add the s to make it else’s.

Don’t be distracted by plurals or singulars or whether it ends in this or that. The rule of pronunciation is invariant, because the apostrophe is silent. Just follow the rule I just explained and all will be well. People like to make this ridiculously complicated, and it’s really one of the simplest things in all of English. Let your tongue guide you.

share|improve this answer
Not always. What about -its-? –  Jim Feb 28 '12 at 1:55
Alone of all words, personal pronouns don’t get the apostrophe to make them possessive. I meant to include that. Impersonal pronouns, however, do. –  tchrist Feb 28 '12 at 1:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.