Kansas’ or Kansas’s?

Where a noun ends in s and needs a possessive s, I used to tell students they could write/say either Prince Charles’ ears or Prince Charles’s ears – some people think the latter sounds ugly.

At LegalTimes.com, Jonathan Starble comments on a Supreme Court case, Kansas v. Marsh.
Majority opinion (ThomaS, RobertS, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia): Kansas’ statute
Dissenting opinion (Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg and StevenS): Kansas’s statute

Souter boldly began his Marsh dissent as follows: “Kansas’s capital sentencing statute provides . . .” This dramatic and gratuitous use of the possessive was an obvious attack on Thomas, who, as one of three s-ending members of the Court, is viewed as a role model for the millions of children who grow up with the stigma of grammatical ambiguity attached to their names.

What I don’t understand is why they didn’t just say the Kansas statute. But there is more:

Yet in other parts of the opinion, Scalia added only an apostrophe to form the words Stevens’, Adams’, and Tibbs’. Based on this, it would seem that he believes the extra s should be omitted if the existing s is preceded by a hard consonant sound.

Who actually does the final polishing to these decisions? I can’t believe the Bundesverfassungsgericht would allow such discrepancies through.

Finally, Starble concludes that the only proper form, at least in American English, is Kansas’s:

By a margin of 7-2, the strict anti-s view appears to be the clear preference of the land’s highest court. Yet experts on American usage overwhelmingly agree that Souter’s approach is the only one that is proper. As explained by Bryan Garner, author of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, most authorities on the subject recognize only two types of singular nouns for which it is acceptable to omit the additional s: biblical or classical names, such as Jesus, Moses, or Aristophanes, and nouns formed from plurals, such as General Motors or Legal Times. (Journalists are often more liberal in excluding the additional s, but that is typically based on the pragmatic goal of conserving print space rather than on any ideological grounds.)

I really find that odd. I would avoid Kansas’s for euphony, unless it would be ambiguous. And on top of this, the issue is actually one of spoken English too: what did the justices actually say? And Starble does have a subheading ‘What about Arkansas?’ – since the last S in Arkansas is not pronounced, the problem doesn’t arise.

(Thanks to the Forensic Linguistics mailing list)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.