Is it state's secrets or state secret?

I am always confused when I try to put " 's " to things .

I have read answers about use of the possessive apostrophe but I am not sure whether this should be:

state's secrets


state secrets

I think that the state does own secrets and I think that the first one is right, is it? And please, I need a clear explanation for this.


1 Answer 1


There is clear evidence from government websites, the New York Times, and other authoritative publications, that state secrets is written without an apostrophe expressing possession.


The state secrets privilege is a common law evidentiary rule that allows the government to withhold information from discovery when disclosure would be inimical to national security."

Center for Constitutional Rights:

FAQs: What Are State Secrets

The New York Times:

State Secrets Privilege Invoked to Block Testimony in C.I.A. Torture Case

Also in Japan, source: The Guardian:

Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law

In conclusion the evidence is clear, there is no apostrophe in state secrets.

Why is this? Because state is acting like an adjective here, to describe the type of secrets, the state doesn't actually possess the secrets.

The same concept is applied to farmers markets, in the following explanation from grammar girl at quick and dirty tips:

Does ‘Farmers Market’ Have an Apostrophe?

Here’s an even trickier one: farmers market. The market is used by the farmers, populated by the farmers, but generally not owned by the farmers. So it seems reasonable to conclude that you don't use an apostrophe because the word farmers is there to identify the type of market. It's acting like an adjective...


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