Is it correct to say "Forbes' building was sold to NYU" or "Forbes's building was sold to NYU" ? Or perhaps both are correct?

  • I was taught the former, even for proper names. You can read here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_possessive – Anna Taurogenireva Jun 25 '13 at 21:34
  • 'Correct' in areas where companies / agencies / individuals have a say usually means 'How do they like it spelt?' Lloyds and Lloyd's, for instance, are quite nitpicky about their chosen styles. Many organisations are dropping apostrophes once considered mandatory (eg Waterstone(')s) ( guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/12/… ) – Edwin Ashworth Jun 25 '13 at 23:02
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    @FumbleFingers, that would be correct when the building is named after Forbes, but not when the building is owned by Mrs. Forbes. "The Forbes Building was sold to NYU" but "Forbes's building was sold to NYU". – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 0:23
  • @Cyberherbalist: I've no idea whether Mrs. Forbes owned the building at the time of the sale, but that doesn't alter the fact that the possessive apostrophe would almost never be used in such a context. Your question might have made more sense if you'd asked about Jesus's cross was carried by Simon of Cyrene, for example. In such cases, although the final -iz is normally pronounced, it's nearly always written as Jesus' cross. – FumbleFingers Jun 26 '13 at 0:56
  • @FumbleFingers The apostrophe is never pronounced. – tchrist Jun 26 '13 at 16:40

I was first taught that Forbes' was correct, but if you use Strunk and White's Elements of Style as you guide (as I prefer), you would use the latter.

The 1918 edition of Strunk's original book (and E.B. White concurred), he gives Rule 1 in Chapter 2, "Elementary Rules of Usage", as:

  1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

  • Charles’s friend
  • Burns’s poems
  • the witch’s malice

This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press. Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake.

But such forms as

  • Achilles’ heel,
  • Moses’ laws,
  • Isis’ temple

are commonly replaced by

  • the heel of Achilles
  • the laws of Moses
  • the temple of Isis

The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and oneself have no apostrophe.

You'll get static from some folks who don't adhere to Strunk and White, but there's NOTHING wrong with this formation of the possessive in words ending with s.

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    Consider my downvote "static". I don't have a lot of time for Strunk and White's pronouncements on such matters. Particularly when we're talking about century-old style advice which is even less followed today than it was then. – FumbleFingers Jun 26 '13 at 1:00
  • Aww, darnit. That's my first downvote on this Stack Exchange. Thanks for ruining my day, @FumbleFingers! Just kidding! Maybe YOU think it's outdated, but in 2011, Time magazine listed The Elements of Style as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Opinions are mixed, of course, but some perfectly legitimate writers consider Strunk & White to be important and authoritative. So there. :-) – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 16:32
  • Oh, and regardless of Strunk & White, I stand by my answer. – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 16:33
  • I'm not saying it's actually "wrong" to use 's after, for example, Charles. I just object to the prescriptive S&W position implying that's the only "correct" form. For example, the UK Guardian newspaper site has 4190 instances of St James's park, but 6580 instances without the possessive s (but which nearly always include at least the possessive apostrophe). – FumbleFingers Jun 26 '13 at 17:03

Forbes' is correct. An example of that is a news article titled Oprah regains top spot on Forbes' list of most powerful celebrities (it's the first I found on Google, don't judge me).

  • How "prescriptive" of you! No judging necessary, it is clear that there is no real ultimate authority of the English language. Usage is King. That being said, how do you SAY "Forbes'"? How do you SAY "Charles'"? I happen to say Forbes' without an s sound, but I say Charles's WITH the s sound. Ah, anarchy! But be careful about being prescriptive or @FumbleFingers will downvote your answer! :-) – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 17:32
  • LOL I know, I know. But I do put a simple apostrophe when it comes to most (all?) names ending in S, so it made sense grammatically. And the original question sounded like a newspaper article, and so... >.> I say Forbes with the s at the end, mostly because that's the only way I've heard it pronounced. Why do you keep the s silent? – Corina Jun 26 '13 at 18:29
  • I don't know why I keep it silent in that case. <shrug> Perhaps to avoid sounding like Gollum: "What does it have in its pocketses, Precious?" :-) – Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 18:51
  • @Cyberherbalist: Nah, I'm not that much of a rabid downvoter! I only vented my spleen on you because I'd just closevoted as a duplicate (and because I don't like Strunk and White, obviously! :) To show no hard feelings, I'll make a point of finding one or two of your questions that I can upvote. But I am surprised, Corina, that you say your example was the "first you found on Google". When I Google "Forbes' list of", only 3 of the first 20 results have an apostrophe. Google doesn't handle apostrophes very well, but there are none in the first 20 if it's not in the search term. – FumbleFingers Jun 26 '13 at 23:56
  • That's kind of you, @FumbleFingers. And one hasn't really gotten into a StackExchange until one has been downvoted, so you have validated my existence! We will just have to agree to disagree on Strunk & White. I don't slavishly follow it, in any case. – Cyberherbalist Jun 27 '13 at 0:00

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