Above the Law

The rule for plural possessives is to pluralize first, then form the possessive {woman > women > women’s} {shoe > shoes > shoes’}. But what happens when you have a playfully respelled plural for a word such as socks? That is, Sox is already considered plural: we say “the Red Sox are in the World Series,” not “*the Red Sox is in the World Series.” We also say “he was a player for the Boston Red Sox.” But it would be unidiomatic to say “*he is a Boston Red Sox.” Hence Sox is undeniably plural, with the “s” sound embedded.

All that is left is to make that plural form possessive. For a singular possessive, the rule would be to add -’s, but this is not a singular possessive. With a regular plural possessive, one simply adds an apostrophe to the end of the word {the socks’ odor} {the boots’ leather} {the Boston Red Sox’ record}.

Some might argue that Sox is an irregular plural, like children. Yes, it’s a plural noun that does not end in the letter “s” — but it does end in the “s” sound (and shouldn’t be treated any differently from the traditionally spelled socks). You wouldn’t say the “Red Soxes’ best pitcher.” As The Gregg Reference Manual puts it, “If no extra s sound is created when you pronounce the possessive form, add only an apostrophe.” And the Redbook rule is to add -’s to “a plural noun that does not end in an s or z sound.” Here, it does end in the “s” sound, so only the apostrophe is needed.

What are the Red Sox’ chances of winning the 2013 World Series? We’ll know shortly, but don’t jinx them with poor usage (unless, of course, you’re a Cardinals fan).

Sources:
William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual § 639, at 188 (10th ed. 2005).
The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style § 7.11, at 134 (3d ed. 2013).

Thanks to @ericsimon for sending me this question on Twitter.

Bryan A. Garner, President of LawProse Inc., is the most prolific CLE presenter in the U.S., having trained more than 150,000 lawyers and judges. His book — most prominently Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern American Usage — have been cited as authority by every state and federal appellate court, including the highest. For more about him, go to www.lawprose.org. To follow him on Twitter: @bryanagarner.