Rogue Words From A to Z: Separating Siblings With Apostrophe S

A to Z Letter SOne of my readers has asked me how to successfully sort out plurals and possessives for words ending with the letter s. Stupendous idea! Let’s see if we can solve through storytelling all the different situations where s can cross us.

Once upon a time in another star system, there lived two clone siblings named Silas and Simon Sassafras.

Pluralizing Family Names

Neighbours had no idea what to do with “those Sassafrases” because they couldn’t tell the two of them apart.

When you are referring to more than one family member with a last name that ends in s, you add -es.

Showing Possession for a Singular Word

Silas’s smile was exactly the same as Simon’s.

Simon’s laugh was exactly the same as Silas’s.

If a word is singular, you add apostrophe s to the end of the word to indicate possession, even when the word ends with an s (Silas’s smile, Silas’s laugh).

Note: In the past, exceptions have been made for names that were considered special (like Jesus). In these rare cases, the apostrophe was used without an s (Jesus’). However, today’s trend (which is simple) is to always use apostrophe s for singular words.

Showing Possession for a Plural Word

The clone siblings’ eerie sameness was getting on everyone’s nerves. (Even if they were both very friendly.)

If a word is plural and ends in s, you add an apostrophe at the end without an s (siblings’).

Showing Possession For a Pair of People

Silas and Simon’s stubborn tendency to stump their neighbours would soon be over.

When you are referring to something that belongs to both people in a pair (tendency), you add an apostrophe s at the end of the second name.

In desperation, the community forced Silas and Simon to go to a barber shop and get different haircuts.

Silas’s hair was now short.

Simon’s hair was now not so short.

Silas’s and Simon’s hairstyles were so different that they could be seen as completely separate beings. The neighbours sighed in satisfaction as Silas and Simon sobbed.

When both people in a pair own different kinds of the same thing (like different hairstyles), then you need to put an apostrophe s at the end of both names.

The next morning, everyone in the neighbourhood woke up to find a clone sleeping next to them. Mass panic ensued. When they tried to get haircuts, their hair grew back. When they put on different clothes, the clothes instantly changed to become the same. They all ran to the Sassafrases’ house, but no one was home.

They later found out that Silas and Simon had left on a spaceship to become famous intergalactic movie stars who paid off all their new neighbours’ mortgages.

Bonus Word: Separate

Separate (like definitely) is one of those super tricky words to spell. Here’s a quick tip to help you remember that separate has a “par” in the middle (instead of a “per“): When you separate things, they are now apart.


This post is dedicated to Ameena and Nicole Roder. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will taunt the troublesome letter T…


Β© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015


52 thoughts on “Rogue Words From A to Z: Separating Siblings With Apostrophe S

  1. This is a fantastic article. I realize that I have almost always messed up adding ‘s to the end of singular s-enders, and have always just added a ‘ to the s as if it was a plural. Now I know the real way.

    Separate is also one of my trouble words, so I was *definitely* delighted to see you give the mnemonic for how to spell it.

    This is off-topic, sort of. Since you had sibling in your title, it reminded me that somewhere, I saw that the gender-non-specific word for nieces and nephew was “nibling.” I don’t know if it’s a legit word or not, but I love using it. Even though all I have are nieces, which is a perfectly fine word, I just like calling them “my niblings.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nibling is new to me, thanks for a great word, Pat! I looked it up and it seems to be one of those words that is in use but hasn’t been “officially” approved by a dictionary yet. I think it’s fantastic! Time to use it with my nieces and nephews. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This “s” thing.. when a pair owns different kinds of the same thing…I had no clue about it. Your “apart” tip is great! Storytelling, the best way to learn! thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the little stories you write up!

    Separate used to give me trouble when I was younger. That and ‘desperate.’ I’d write ‘seperate’ and ‘desparate’ lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the advice to remember “apart” for spelling “separate.” I can’t believe I never thought of that! And now I have the Strong Bad song in my head about “its” and “it’s.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Jaso! Yes, an organization is treated like a singular person, so it would be SIS’s. Out of curiosity, I looked up how to handle McDonald’s. It’s generally agreed that the correct way of showing a possessive for this company is McDonald’s’s, but that this looks ridiculous. Solution? Rearrange the sentence so you don’t have to do it. πŸ™‚


    1. That’s great that it makes sense. You probably did learn it differently, since opinions on usage of apostrophes keep changing over time. I like these newer rules of apostrophe style because they are simpler!


    1. “Hers and my” is a fun one. It’s correct but awkward and not very specific about who owns what. Usually my advice there would be to rewrite the sentence to something like “This x belongs to us.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “The clone siblings’ eerie sameness was getting on everyone’s nerves. (Even if they were both very friendly.)”

    Hey! What do you mean by “eerie sameness”? πŸ™‚ I’ll have you know that we’re very easy to tell apart –I have longer hair and no goatee, and the other one wears glasses.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had to come back and let you know I’m working on some edits and found two instances where I put “the Harris’s” for plural possessive of a family name (e.g., the Harris’s refrigerator). Hadn’t even realized it. Thanks to you, I changed them to “the Harrises’.” What good timing for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, they are. I have a list of things that I find harder to spot so I can refer to it when I am editing, and possession with plurals is on that list! Really it’s all about unlearning bad habits, and that’s hard.


      2. That’s smart to have a list. I’m currently reading through my manuscript backwards. It’s tedious, but that’s how I’m finding these easy-to-miss things. I’m not getting caught up in the story so it’s easier to spot them. Oh, the things we writers do…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s a great method for doing a review. It’s so hard when you’re close to the work. One of the best tips I learned about proofreading was to read a few words at a time in groups that aren’t logical (across phrases and sentences) so that you are looking at the words and not the meaning of them or how they are put together. It takes some getting used to, but it works.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d never heard there was a difference between singular and plural in using an apostrophe in words ending in s. I always thought it was optional to leave off the s after the apostrophe, like possessive for Silas could be either Silas’s or Silas’. The double s looks awkward to me. Interesting.
    I learned to spell separate when someone told me there was a rat in the middle of it. For some reason, that stuck with me. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that one about the rat. Lori! I’m not surprised it was memorable for you. πŸ™‚

      Usage rules around apostrophes keep changing, and there isn’t 100% agreement. I like the ‘s for all singular words rule because it’s consistent (so easier to remember) and it makes single words clearly distinguishable from plural words, where there is only an apostrophe at the end. It’s also the preferred method according to the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the go-to style manual for book publishing. However, I believe the Associated Press (AP) leaves off the s in their style guide. So it’s also a matter of style preference. Like a lot of punctuation “rules,” there isn’t always a clear right or wrong. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ohhhh, this is one of my pet peeves. People who use a name that ends in S, and don’t add the ‘s because, and I quote, it looks prettier without it. πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was taught to use “Jesus’s” because his name ends in an S sound. If it sounds like a Z, you use the plain apostrophe, so you don’t have two Z sounds in a row.. I have no idea if that is/was a real rule!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Hannah!

      I’ve heard of a couple of different approaches on this.

      One, like you said, is to avoid the apostrophe s when it will make things “sound bad.” This can include that double z sound. (I’ve heard Jesus pronounced with that z sound, by the way. I think it depends on the accent.)

      The other is to avoid using apostrophe s for specific classical names, like Moses and Euripides.

      Like a lot of these “rules,” they are all based on style guides of the day. There’s always a conflict of opinion when it comes to punctuation because it keeps evolving. I find grammar tends to be a bit more straightforward when it comes to “rules” because they are based on things that can affect the meaning of words, whereas punctuation doesn’t always do that and is often a matter of personal preference.

      Which is a long-winded way of saying that what you were taught is not wrong, but there isn’t really a “right” either…in those cases, *I* have a personal preference to go with whatever is the easiest to learn and the most consistent. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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