By Mary Morel | October 2015
Do styles matter for internal documents?
Someone recently asked me what to do if you’re working with different managers who have their own preferred styles, for example, on list punctuation and whether a page should be right-ragged or fully justified.
If your organisation has a style guide, the obvious answer is to follow its guidelines. In practice, I find that people seldom read their organisation’s style guide. This is partly because they are often long and cumbersome, but also because they are seldom promoted and policed.
And many people feel strongly about their preferred styles. One person I worked with said: ‘Who makes up these rules? I think my way is better, and I intend to continue doing things my way.’
The problem with this attitude is that inconsistent styles are distracting for the reader, and arguing about styles takes the attention away from the content, which matters more.
Professional communications practitioners agree on most aspects of modern styles and the bible in Australia is Style manual. American style guides that I regularly consult are The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook.
Over the next few months, I’ll look at some aspects of styles that people often use inconsistently. Email me if you have a topic you’d like me to cover.
Question: What if you need a parenthetical explanation associated with joint ownership? For example:
Paul’s and Rainford (the butler’s) opinion was that…
Paul’s and Rainford’s (the butler) opinion was that…
Answer: You’ve raised two issues here.
The first issue is whether you need two apostrophes (Paul’s and Rainford’s) or just an apostrophe after the last person’s name (Paul and Rainford’s) if they both share the same opinion.
Not all experts agree, but I think you only need one apostrophe for joint ownership, i.e. if they share the same opinion. You need two apostrophes if they don’t share the same opinion.
Paul’s and Rainford’s different opinions…
The other issue is whether you put the apostrophe after the name or the parenthetical description.
The apostrophe should go after the name, so for joint ownership the sentence could be rewritten in a few different ways:
Paul and the butler Rainford’s opinion…
Rainford (the butler) and Paul’s opinion…
Rainford, the butler, and Paul’s opinion…
Thank you to the people who emailed me about the double possessive after I had a brain freeze last month.
One reader said:
- That was a good idea of Paul’s. (Paul possessed the good idea.)
- But there was one small trait of Paul’s that made Rainsford uncomfortable. (Paul possessed the trait.)
- There were two ladies in our class and Paul was a good friend of the ladies. (‘Ladies’ is simply a plural. No ownership of anything is attributed to them.)
Another reader said: ‘In the first two sentences, the “apostrophe s” is actually an elision. The first sentence in full is really “That was a good idea of Paul’s ideas”.Same comment applies to your second example. But speaking or writing like that is considered clumsy – so, we don’t do it.
‘In your third sentence, “ladies” is preceded by “of the”; and that is exactly what “apostrophe s” means; in that particular case, there is nothing that the ladies have (unless they’ve had Paul). If you replace “the ladies” with “them”, you can see there is no need to express possession.’
Appendixes or appendices?
Several readers commented that the more common plural of ‘appendix’ in Australia and New Zealand is ‘appendices’. (The Q&A from The Chicago Manual of Style Online used ‘appendixes’.)
Interesting articles about writing
What defines good writing?
What do you think makes a person a good writer?
Read what Geoffrey J. Huck, author of What Is Good Writing? has to say on this topic. He likens good writing to fluent speech and says more people would be better writers if society rewarded writing skills.
Spelling error destroyed a business and cost the UK $17m
In the UK, Companies House, part of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, erroneously recorded that the Cardiff engineering firm Taylor & Sons Ltd had been wound up, but the actual firm was Taylor & Son Ltd.
Read what happened next.
Does writing about illness help cure it?
Studies suggest patients who write about their health problems experience long-term benefits.
When to use an apostrophe
Since this newsletter is apostrophe-heavy, I thought you might enjoy this article by Grammar Girl on nine ways to use an apostrophe (or not).
Quote of the month
‘Procrastination is the thief of time; collar him.’