Q: If I say “grandparents” or “grandparents’ ” or “grandparent’s,” it sounds the same but can mean different things. How do I pronounce them so people will know which I mean. Is it wrong to add an extra syllable like “iz”?
A: These words are all pronounced exactly the same: “grandparents” (plural), “grandparent’s” (singular possessive), and “grandparents’ ” (plural possessive). The listener has to judge from the context which form you’re using.
This is true not just of “grandparent” but of any regular noun whose singular form does not end in a sibilant—a hissing, shushing, or buzzing sound, like s, sh, ch, x, or z. (A regular noun forms its plural in the usual way, by adding “s” or “es.”)
In pronouncing the plural and possessive forms, only an “s” sound is added to the singular, not an extra syllable. These are the four forms, how they’re spelled, and how they’re pronounced:
- “grandparent”—singular: “She’s my only surviving grandparent.”
- “grandparents”—plural, no added syllable: “I once had four grandparents.”
- “grandparent’s”—singular possessive, no added syllable: “My one surviving grandparent’s health is good.”
- “grandparents’ ”—plural possessive, no added syllable: “I have all four grandparents’ family trees.”
The same rule holds even if the noun is a proper name, like “Bob.”
- “Bob”—singular: “Bob is my oldest friend.”
- “Bobs”—plural, no added syllable: “I know two other Bobs.”
- “Bob’s”—singular possessive, no added syllable: “My friend Bob’s middle name is James.”
- “Bobs’ ”—plural possessive, no added syllable: “All three Bobs’ middle names are different.”
The only nouns that add an extra syllable in their plural and possessive forms are those that end in a sibilant. We’ll illustrate with the proper noun “Jones” and the common noun “church.”
- singulars: “Nathan Jones is the pastor of our church.”
- plurals, add a syllable: “The many Joneses in our town attend several different churches.”
- singular possessives, add a syllable: “Pastor Jones’s car has its own spot in his church’s parking lot.”
- plural possessives, add a syllable: “All the other Joneses’ cars are lucky to find spots in their churches’ parking lots.”
The syllable that’s added when those plurals and possessives are spoken sounds like ez. The apostrophe at the end of the plural possessives isn’t sounded.
We’ve published several blog posts about forming the plurals and possessives of nouns, including one in 2011 about names like “Chris.”