According to one online dictionary, the apostrophe-s combination is

an ending used in writing to represent the possessive morpheme after most singular nouns, some plural nouns, especially those not ending in a letter or combination of letters representing an s or z sound,

Note the opening, "an ending". Does this mean that an apostrophe COULD NOT be a possessive elsewhere? I have been reading up on the words "bridesmaid" and "groomsman" and according to that same source, the s in the middle is a possessive. (Other sources make the s an "unetymological [which] began to appear by 1794")

I'm asking a theoretical question -- could the word be written "bride'smaid" (and/or "groom'sman") or is there a hard and fast rule that possessives are only indicated at the end of a word? (I have yet to find other words besides bridesmaid(s) and groomsma(e)n to which this would apply)

  • So a bridesmaid's dress becomes a bride'smaid's dress ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:13
  • If you have a bunch of dresses for different events, the store even might stock brides'maids' dresses. I wonder if words can have two possessives, but that's a different question.
    – rosends
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:15
  • 1
    A 'banksman' is someone who, traditionally, stood on top of a bank, to unhook loads from a crane. The term is still used. You might add that to your collection as it must have been 'bank's man' originally. See Wikipedia - banksman.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:23
  • @NigelJ I can't find an online etymology that indicates that the S was ever possessive. The man could have been the one on one of the banks of a pit so the S could be a plural. If I get motivated, I'll go look in the OED.
    – rosends
    Aug 20, 2019 at 14:36
  • 2
    AHD has both the open and the hyphenated form for the noun bullseye: << bull's-eye or bull's eye >>. Note that the apostrophe is present in both. In a reversal of the usual pattern, CED and Lexico give the closed compound bullseye, mercifully dropping the apostrophe. Aug 20, 2019 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


The heart of your question really comes down to the rules about compound words (not apostrophes per se) since that's the only time you would potentially have a possessive apostrophe in the middle of a word.

Algonquin College has a nice write up about compound rules, which can be found here: http://plato.algonquincollege.com/applications/guideToGrammar/?page_id=4523

Compound words start out as commonly combined separate words, often evolve into hyphenated words, and eventually become combined into one word. (open form, hyphenated form, and closed form, respectively).

When a possessive open form compound evolves to the hyphenate or closed form, the internal apostrophe is moved to the end to help avoid confusion. Punctuation is supposed to clarify meaning, after all.

~ ~ ~

Just for fun, here's some possible confusion to think about -

An internal possessive apostrophe would be indistguishable from a contraction apostrophe: groom'sman = groom + 'sman. I don't know what 'sman might be short for, hopefully someone can think of something!

If the compound word itself was possessive: bride'smaid's dress could possibly look like the bride's maid dress.

You could even end up with the plural possessive: groom'smen's suits, and bride'smaids' dresses.

Or for maximal apostrophe use: bride'smaids's dresses. 🤦🏻‍♀️

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