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writing things down…

Jesus’ or Jesus’s?

The 15th ed. of the Chicago Manual of Style opts for the latter.

The possessive of a title or name is formed by adding ‘s. This is so even when the word ends in a sibilant, unless the word itslef is formed from a plural. (5.25)

The general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z . . . (7.18)

They do make exceptions for names of two or more syllables that end in an eez sound (7.20), names ending with an unpronounced s like Descartes (7.21), and “For . . . sake” expressions like “For Jesus’ sake” (7.22; but note the follow up example of “Jesus’s contemporaries”).

They are not hard-nosed about the general rule:

But if a word ends in a sibilant, it is acceptable (especially in journalism) to use a final apostrophe without the additional s. (5.25)

Those uncomfortable with the rules, exceptions, and options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s. (7.23)

Pronunciation seems to be the guiding principle:

This practice . . . reflects the way possessive forms are generally pronounced . . . (7.17)

Though easy to apply, that usage [of "omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s] disregards pronunciation and seems unnatural to many. (7.23)

I see no mention of an exception for biblical names, which is an exception I’ve heard from various authors.

I realize CMOS is not the end-all for these sorts of questions, though it is our guide at Wipf & Stock. Indeed, The Dictionary for Modern American Usage states the following exception: “Biblical and Classical names ending in -s take only an apostrophe” (509). It notes in parenthesis “No extra syllable is added in sounding the possessive form.” I’m not sure I agree. When spoken the possessive of Jesus comes out “Jesusses.” Or, at least it does when I talk. But, I’m from Texas.  We’re not known for proper pronunciation. At any rate, I am inclined toward the pronunciation logic of CMOS. It seems to me that the addition of an apostrophe and another s would account for this pronunciation.

Any thoughts?

[I'd like to take up split infinitives in a future post.]

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8 Comments»

  Patrick George McCullough wrote @

I too pronounce the possessive of Jesus as “Jesusses,” but I type “Jesus’” without the additional s. My reason? The extra s looks weird to me. That’s pretty much it. That and economy of letters. If I can get away with fewer letters, I try to.

  Mike Aubrey wrote @

I prefer Jesus’. It just looks right to me (on any word ending in “s”) – though with Patrick, I say “Jesuses.”

As for split infinitives (if you do decide to take them up). They’ve existed in English since at least 1200 (brought over from the Norman Invasion of 1066). They’re about as English as you can get. Anyone to says otherwise has been listening to too many Latin grammarians instead of English ones.

  Mark Baker-Wright wrote @

Regardless of how the spelling is done, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t pronounce it “Jesuses.”

  The World of Editing | Inhabitatio Dei wrote @

[...] These seriously are the kinds of questions we tend to ruminate on the publishing business. [...]

  Chris wrote @

Pat and Mike,

Do you have reasons for not adding the ‘s other than aesthetics? Lots of things look weird to me too, but that doesn’t make them incorrect. In fact, the more correct style is often the weirdest. Economy of keystrokes is reasonable, but the case could be made for just an apostrophe on any word no matter what letter it ended with.
(Note to self: this last sentence reminds me I ought to look into the issue of ending sentences with prepositions)

  Mike Aubrey wrote @

Good question – though I wasn’t chalking it up to aesthetics. I think its simply the way I was taught to spell and its been ingrained into my head and correct. And to be honest, I’ve never seen “Jesus’s” before.

  Patrick George McCullough wrote @

Though I have seen “Jesus’s,” I have seen “Jesus’” most often. It seems like the dominant use. If it is an acceptable use to so many (highly educated) folks, and I think it looks weird the other way, I’ll stick to the method with which I am more comfortable.

(note my effort not to end the sentence with a preposition!)

  michaeljgorman wrote @

Chris et al—

I always write Jesus’. My public-school fifth-grade teacher (back when teachers could talk about this stuff) said if the word ending in “s” has two or more syllables, it only gets an apostrophe; her examples were Moses and Jesus (no “EEZ” there). And she said to keep their pronunciation to two syllables. I think her reasoning was grounded at least partically in oral aesthetics. Two syllables suffice.

When I started writing, I heard about the biblical exception rule.

At Princeton I was taught to say “Jesus,” not “Jesuses,” and have always done what I was taught, but everyone at Duke this year, to my surprise, said “Jesuses.” That sounds clumbsy and inarticulate to me, even it it is “correct.”

BTW, I once asked Richard Hays (monosyllabic name) his preference—Hays’ or Hays’s, and he preferred the former, for what that is worth.


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