In the case of the proper noun Ross, which of the following would be correct?

  1. Ross's
  2. Ross'
  • The “rule” is that you write what people say. Nothing more — and nothing less. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 2:43

This is a style issue, not a matter of objective correctness or incorrectness. Having said that, I note the advice that various style manuals offer.

From Words Into Type (1974):

Proper names. The possessive form of almost all proper names is formed by adding apostrophe and s to a singular or apostrophe alone to a plural.

By this style rule, you would express the plural of Ross as Ross's.

From The New York Time Manual of Style and Usage (1999):

possessives. Ordinarily form a possessive by adding 's to a singular noun (the boy's boots; the girl's coat), even if the noun already ends in an s (The Times's article). If the word ends in two sibilant sounds (ch, j, s, sh or z) separated only by a vowel sound, drop the s after the apostrophe (Kansas' climate; the sizes' range). But keep the s after the apostrophe when a name ends in a silent sibilant letter (Arkansas's; Malraux's).

Here the possessive of Ross would be Ross's but the possessive of Biswas would be Biswas'.

From The Chicago Manual of Style, Fifteenth Edition (2003):

7.18 Proper names, letters, and numbers. The general rule ["Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's"] covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers. {Relevant example:] Strauss's Vienna


7.23 An alternative practice. Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive on all words ending in s—hence "Dylan Thomas' poetry," "Maria Callas' singing," and "that business' main concern." Though easy to apply that usage disregards pronunciation and thus seems unnatural to many.

Here, by 7.18 you'd use Ross's, but by 7.23 you'd use Ross'.

I haven't found any instances where a stylebook instruct its followers to treat the possessive of a singular proper name differently if it ends in a double s (as with Ross) than if it ends in a single s (as with Barnes).

  • The only sane rule is to write down what people say. Nothing else matters. You’re just inciting people to bad practices and confusion when you try to do anything else. Come on: you’re citing people who think that they need to make a special point out of “the sizes’ range”; that’s crazy. And because Ross’ is not what anybody ever says, so you should never write it that way either. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 2:40
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    ...unless (as so many writers are) you are forced to operate under someone else's house style rules, in which case the only sane thing to do is to capitulate. – Sven Yargs Jul 23 '14 at 2:43
  • If that were the case, then they wouldn’t be asking here, right? They would just be doing whatever their masters’ whim was. Trying to make up a million special rules to explain why it’s both this series’ finale and these series’ finales and all kinds of other things of that ilk just confuses people. The simple rule of writing down what is actually said is all that is ever needed. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 2:44
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    Right. What I'm actually trying to get at with my answer is that there is no ultimate, universal rule—which I hope will encourage writers who are unsure how to proceed to see that they aren't wrong as long as they adopt a style preference and stick to it. I hope it isn't counterproductive to cite the conflicting advice offered by major U.S. styleguides. – Sven Yargs Jul 23 '14 at 2:49
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    Then you could say that a lot of people deal with this inconsistently, including style guides. The fact is that they are just laying down random “rules” with no reasoning behind them, because nobody ever explained it to them properly in the first place. That means nobody will ever know what to do, nor will they know how to know what to do. I actually do believe there is an ultimate, universal rule: you write what people say. Yes, some people say different things. Fine. Let each write what each actually says. Now there is nothing to remember. Existing answers already say all this. – tchrist Jul 23 '14 at 2:55

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