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At a clothing store, you might see a sign saying Men's Clothing, and the possessive use of the apostrophe correctly indicates that the clothing is suited towards the group "Men" (i.e. more than one man). If the apostrophe was after the 's', i.e. Mens' Clothing, it would cause someone proficient with grammar to assume that there exists more than one group of pluralized men to whom the clothing is suited (i.e. tall men, fat men, green men).

An ambiguity arises with the phrase Ladies' Clothing. It would seem that this use would conform to the second case above (i.e. as Mens' Clothing). This is because there isn't really a word spelled 'ladie' ('y' usually becomes 'ies' in plural), so Ladie's Clothing would clearly be incorrect.

So my question is how do you refer to the possession of more than one lady, but not to the possession of more than one group of ladies, and thereby avoid the ambiguity caused when using the phrase Ladies' Clothing?

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closed as general reference by MετάEd, jwpat7, Mahnax, tchrist, FumbleFingers Aug 31 '12 at 2:35

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I'm sure there's no such thing in English as Ladie's -- it's definitely Ladies' Clothing. –  Kris Aug 24 '12 at 13:13

1 Answer 1

Your premise is wrong. You would not write mens', because there is no plural mens for more than one group of men. It it is not like boy's for one boy and boys' for more than one boy. Men is already plural.

Hence, there is no ambiguity with the men, and for the same reason no ambiguity with the ladies. Ladies is the plural form of lady, so the apostrophe goes to the right - ladies'.

If you are wondering why we don't write ladies's, it is because ladies is one of the exceptions, along with girls', parents', players', weeks' and even Klingons'

It can get a bit niggly with names too. Aristophanes' plays, but Jesus's miracles and (usually) James's car.

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Thanks for your answer. However, I disagree with your statement that there is no plural 'mens'. It is certainly possible that a plural of a plural can exist (and if not, ought to exist) with regard to 'mens' and other plural structures. –  Josh Aug 24 '12 at 11:53
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@Josh: Can you show us an authentic example that you've encountered, Josh? –  Barrie England Aug 24 '12 at 11:57
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@Josh: While you can make uncountables plural to indicate different types, you can't make plurals plural (other than poetically), because they already are. –  David Schwartz Aug 24 '12 at 12:11
    
@Josh: Do you mean countries could become countriess and countriesss and so on? –  Noah Aug 24 '12 at 12:16
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@Josh: Yes, I'm sure you've seen 'Ladies' Clothing'. My question was whether you'd seen an authentic example of the use of 'mens' as a plural plural. You seemed to suggest that such a thing could exist. –  Barrie England Aug 24 '12 at 14:28

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