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AP Style Rule:

If the word following a singular common noun ending in "s" begins with "s," add an apostrophe only.

Based on AP's rule above, are the following bulleted examples correctly punctuated per AP style?

•the bus' seats (referring to just one bus)

•the buses' seats (referring to more than one bus)

•the mattress' springs (referring to just one mattress)

•the mattresses' springs (referring to more than one mattress)

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    You have the rule, apply it. What's the question? – John Lawler Oct 14 '14 at 3:44
  • I applied it. Unsure, though, whether I'm correct with all four examples. Oh yeah, Bub. Are all four correct based on AP's rule—yes or no? – whippoorwill Oct 14 '14 at 4:19
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This rule has been changed. This is what The Associated Press Stylebook (2018) says about it now:

SINGULAR COMMON NOUNS ENDING IN S: Add ’s: the hostess’s invitation, the hostess’s seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’s story. (A change from previous guidance calling for just an apostrophe if the next word begins with s.)

Much easier now. Thank you, AP.

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Here is how The Associated Press Stylebook (2002) lays out the rule you refer to in your question:

apostrophe (') Follow these guidelines: ...

SINGULAR COMMON NOUNS ENDING IN S: Add 's unless the next word begins with s: the hostess's invitation, the hostess' seat; the witness's answer, the witness' story.

This rule governs two of the examples you ask about:

  • the bus' seats (referring to just one bus)

and

  • the mattress' springs (referring to just one mattress)

But your other two examples involve possessives of plural (not singular) nouns ending in s, so the cited rule doesn't apply to them. Instead, the relevant AP rule is this one (from the same general entry on apostrophe use):

PLURAL NOUNS ENDING IN S: Add only an apostrophe: the churches' needs, the girls' toys, the horses' food, the ships' wake, states' rights, the VIPs' entrance.

This rule governs the other two examples you ask about:

  • the buses' seats (referring to more than one bus)

and

  • the mattresses' springs (referring to more than one mattress)

So the answer to your question is that the four examples you ask about are indeed handled correctly under AP style as given, but they are correct in accordance with two different specific guidelines: one governing possessives of singular common nouns that precede a word starting with s; and one governing possessives of plural common nouns, regardless of the word that follows them.

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In every example you cite the noun is actually used as an noun-adjective modifying a noun. Possession is incorrect here. e.g., 'bus seats';'mattress springs'. In the plural 'buses' and 'mattresses' are also adjectives needing no apostrophe to show possession--their just simple plural forms. But why even use a plural form such as 'buses' and 'mattresses'? The focus of the sentences is on 'seats' and 'springs', not the number of buses or mattresses. The examples you give are not consistent with the AP rule because the words 'bus' and 'mattress' are not used as common nouns but as adjectives.

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