The Irish poet William Butler Yeats would roll over in his grave if he saw how often people wrote such egregious errors as “W.B. Yeat’s poetry.” Your mastery of possessives isn’t complete until you understand what to do when names end in s.
- I was startled by the attack on Yeat’s poetry.
- Jameses’ mom told him to sit down.
We are fortunate that spoken words came before written words, so we all have learned to say Yeats’s poetry and James’s mom before we learned to write them. Trust the way you speak! When a possessive name ends with s or z, add an apostrophe and an s. Say this to yourself: “I happen to love Yeats’s poetry.” You automatically said it correctly.
MORE TO KNOW
When the final s in a word is unpronounced, as in Descartes, you simply add an apostrophe without the additional s. “Alas, they never understood Descartes’ philosophies.” The same is true when a name ending in s is ancient (Socrates, Moses): Just add the apostrophe for the possessive. “I learned so much from Socrates’ teachings.”