The Grammarphobia Blog

A sign of the Times’s?

Q: On the Authors page of your website, you say Pat once “wrote the Times’s weekly columns on new video releases and paperback books.” Why do you add an “s” after the apostrophe in “Times’s”? I would think one “s” is enough.

A: The New York Times, like the Times of London, treats the “Times” in its name as a singular word. Thus when used as a possessive, the name “Times” is followed by an apostrophe plus another “s.”

Though this practice is a longstanding newspaper tradition, it’s not endorsed by standard guides on usage. So you’re right to question our use of the extra “s.” But in our opinion, this is a style issue that’s neither right nor wrong.

Within an entry about the use of apostrophes, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage says: “Almost all singular words ending in s require a second s as well as the apostrophe to form the possessive: James’s; Chris’s; The Times’s.”

Elsewhere, in an entry about the use of the newspaper’s name, the manual says: “Note the possessive: The Times’s coverage.”

And in an entry about possessives in general, it says: “Ordinarily form a possessive by adding ’s to a singular noun (the boy’s boots; the girl’s coat), even if the noun already ends in an s (The Times’s article).”

But the paper doesn’t extend this rule to other proper names that consist of technically plural words: “Sometimes a singular idea is expressed in words that are technically plural; in such a case, use the plural form of the possessive: United States’; General Motors’. Never United States’s, etc.”

Is this a double standard? Is the paper making an exception for itself?

For an answer we turned to The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.). In its rules on possessives, the style guide has a section about nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning.

The Chicago Manual recommends adding only an apostrophe “when the name of a place or an organization or a publication (or the last element in the name) is a plural form ending in s, such as the United States, even though the entity is singular.”

The examples given are “the United States’ role in international law … Highland Hills’ late mayor … Callaway Gardens’ former curator … the National Academy of Sciences’ new policy.”

In a separate entry, the Chicago Manual discusses the use of apostrophes with italics (it recommends italicizing the names of publications). It gives these examples: “the Atlantic Monthly’s editor … the New York Times’ new fashion editor.”

So it appears that the newspaper does indeed have a double standard, allowing “Times” to be singular in its own name, but not “Motors” (in “General Motors”) or “States” (in “United States”).

But there’s some justification for this.

The Oxford English Dictionary has citations for many senses of the plural “times,”  including “the general state of affairs at a particular period.” This is the sense of the word that has appeared in the names of newspapers since 1788.

The Times of London, the first to use “Times” in its name, treats the word as a singular when referring to itself.

For example, a section called “Bricks and Mortar” is advertised as “The Times’s weekly property supplement.”

And recent news articles include such references as “before The Times’s revelations” … “not even The Times’s esteemed chief theatre critic” … “since the beginning of The Times’s campaign” … “The Times’s respected rugby correspondent” … “The Times’s profile of him.”

And the Financial Times has the same policy (“the Financial Times’s London office” … “the Financial Times’s analysis of health department figures”), though it modestly refrains from capitalizing “the.”

There’s one other point to be made here. If the possessive form changes in pronunciation (for example, from TIMES to TIMES-ez), then it’s usually spelled with an extra “s.”

The two of us worked at the New York Times for many years, and we know that the possessive form of the name is commonly pronounced with the extra syllable. But we don’t usually hear the extra “ez” in the possessive forms of “General Motors” and “United States.”

So we’ll stick with the extra “s” when we write the possessive form: “Times’s.” But those who choose to omit it may do so with a clean conscience.

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