One of the first things an editor learns is the importance of a good style manual. When tricky questions of grammar, punctuation or usage arise, it’s good to have a “bible” to refer to get the definitive answer as to the “correct” way to write something.
Today I got a good reminder. Correctness is not always absolute, even with the best of style manuals.
My problem was simple. I wanted to create a possessive of the name Julius. My client had written Julius’s. My recollection was that no additional s was necessary and that it should be Julius’. Which was correct?
I checked the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition and found the following advice:
7.17 Possessives of words and names ending in unpronounced “s.” …words and names ending in an unpronounced s form the possessive in the usual way (with the addition of an apostrophe and an s). This practice not only recognizes that the additional s is often pronounced but adds to the appearance of consistency with the possessive forms of other types of proper nouns.
I had my answer, but still felt a bit uncertain?
A quick web search revealed that the above represented a change. The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style had recommended the use of an apostrophe without an additional s. So had the Associated Press Stylebook. However, the change in Chicago’s stance brought the manual into line with the classic The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White who recommended an ‘s..
The episode reminded me of an important lesson. Language is constantly evolving. As it does, what’s correct changes. What is correct now? As James Thurber said when he titled his in 1941 story, You Could Look It Up. But make sure you are using a current style guide and one appropriate for your genre.