The Grammarphobia Blog

A possessive maître d’

Q: I’m an editor at a travel magazine and I have an apostrophe problem. How do I refer to the duties of a maître d’? Is it maître d’s, maître d”s, or something else?

A: I can’t find any style manuals that address this issue directly, so I’ll have to tippy-toe into unknown waters.

But first let me recommend the cowardly solution. Why not avoid the issue? You could say the maître d’hôtel’s duties or the duties of the maître d’. If you insist on facing this possessive problem head on, though, here are my thoughts.

You have two needs for an apostrophe in this case: the apostrophe of elision (the one that stands for the missing e in maître d’ or maître d’hôtel) and the apostrophe of possession. If any reference book did advise you to use both apostrophes, I’d say it was nuts. So I’d go with maître d’s as the possessive.

One clue you could use to justify this is that The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) says the plural of maître d’ is maître d’s. American Heritage is a dictionary that makes single letters (like d) plural by adding an apostrophe plus s (‘s). With maître d’, however, it drops one of the apostrophes.

In other words, the dictionary pluralizes maître d’ as maître d’s, not as maître d’’s. One can only assume that it would have done the same for the possessive, if it had dealt with the issue.

Sorry I can’t be more definitive.

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