Genitivizing the ungenitivizable?

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Bob Ladd visited his doctor's office today. Which wouldn't normally be news for Language Log; but while waiting to be called he idly picked up a magazine, as one does. It was Birds, the magazine of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and he spotted a linguistically interesting item in an advertisement offering this:

5% off your next cottage holiday for Bird’s readers

Bob was truly puzzled by the spelling of the penultimate word. Rightly so, I think.

Here's what he thought about it, in his own words:

Question: Was this

  1. simply a hopeless misspelling (the so-called greengrocer's apostrophe) for the name of the magazine, so that the final phrase is intended as a compound analogous to Newsweek readers, or
  2. an attempt to signal possessive/genitive ’s on the end of the name of the magazine, so that the final phrase is intended as a phrase analogous to Newsweek’s readers?

If the latter, what would YOU have written? Birds’ ? Birds’s ? They're all awful.

This problem is comparable to the problem that Italian has with Preposition + Article contractions when the article is part of a proper name, like the newspaper La Repubblica. Do you write *il direttore della Repubblica (definitely not) or ?il direttore de la Repubblica (quite common even though de on its own doesn't really exist) or ??il direttore di la Repubblica (possible but marginal)?

I guess I'm inclined to think that it was case (b): Newsweek’s readers works because Newsweek ends in a letter other than s or the apostrophe. Mother Jones’ readers works because Jones is a name ending in s, and the apostrophe addition is generally OK with those. But Birds looks like a common noun, and although birds’ is grammatically permissible, it is the genitive plural of bird. Birds’ readers would have the nonsensical meaning "the readers of birds". So the writer struggled with his or her conscience.

Getting something that kept the form of the magazine name intact and added ’s to it would yield Birds’s. In fact with the title of the magazine were set in italics, the sentence would have been "5% off your next cottage holiday for Birds’s readers. That would be defensible. But it just looked too horrible (either to the writer or a subeditor) to be allowed in print, so they made an arbitrary choice out of the awful alternatives and did the wrong thing: they erased the first s.

Which shows us, I think, that faced with a set of terrible choices, people will make terrible decisions. What else could they do?

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66 Comments »

  1. rpsms said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    I would use the Italics option. One could argue that the "title in quotes" and (then italic usage) was created to remove this ambiguity.

  2. Morten Jonsson said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    I would have given up on the genitive altogether and simply written "Birds readers." That seems more idiomatic anyway; one says "Audi drivers" or "Pepsi drinkers," not "Audi's drivers" or "Pepsi's drinkers."

    [Yes; this is Bob's option (a). Perhaps you're right: in that case we have to assume that instead of genitivizing the ungenitivizable (I have added a question mark to my title!), the writer was using a fully grammatical construction with the name of the magazine as an attributive modifier; but in that case we have to assume a decidedly illiterate spelling botch, because the magazine name doesn't have an apostrophe. —GKP]

  3. Owen Blacker said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

    il direttore della Repubblica (definitely not)

    Is that a definite no-no in Italian? In French they'd talk about "au Monde", to mean "à" + "Le Monde", for example.

  4. Spell Me Jeff said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

    What then to do with a title like Collier's? It should go without saying that "Collier's's readers" is an abomination. So one settles on "Collier's readers," which I think can be parsed only on the analogy suggested by Morten Jonsson.

  5. D Nakassis said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    What's even stranger is the shift from 2nd to 3rd person: "5% off your (2nd person) next cottage holiday for Bird’s readers (3rd person)." So I would have written "5% off next cottage holiday for Birds readers" (following Morten Jonnson) or "5% of your next cottage holiday, Birds readers." But the disjunction between the 2nd and 3rd person I find grating.

  6. William Ockham said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    I would have changed it to "our readers". If I had to make the copy work for ads appearing something other than the magazine itself then I would write "readers of Birds".

    [Yes, it would have been straightforward to use the complement of-phrase expression of the possessive relation rather than the prenominal genitive determiner. Strunk and White keep telling people to recast their sentence when there is no need for it; but when people really do need to recast a sentence, they won't! —GKP]

  7. komfo,amonan said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    Didn't know that Italian had that quandary, but I assume, due to the example of República de El Salvador, that Spanish does not. I wonder what French, Portuguese, Catalan, &c. do.

    I like "Birds readers".

  8. James C. said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    As a person whose name ends with an s, I constantly campaign for the use of -’s / s_ everywhere that it can be applied. In my opinion there’s no useful reason to distinguish between Birds’s and Birds’, since in context the meaning is always clear, and the hanging apostrophe is both easily missed in reading and typographically (aesthetically) ugly. The nastiness of just is compounded of course when used in quotes.

    1. James’s friends
    2. Birds’s readers
    3. your parents’s house
    Is there any good argument for using -’s-’ / s_? I figure any argument in favour of it will in the end be aesthetic, hence coming down to convention and preference, like most issues involving orthography.

  9. Gabriel said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    While it might be a bit off the focus of this news post, I share Owen's concern, being entirely unaware of any such rule in Italian. Granted I'm not a native speaker, but after 5 years, I've seen negli/degli Stati Uniti (i.e. in/di + gli + Stati Uniti) and similar constructions show up often enough.

    Or is this less a rule for proper nouns and more specifically periodicals?

  10. Megs said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    I'm pretty sure the dropped s post-apostrophe came from descriptive grammar. Nobody SAYS, parents's house. They say, parents' house.

    When I read the s post-apostrophe, I pronounce it. When I don't pronounce, I certainly don't bother to write it.

  11. Gabriel said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

    *5 years in the classroom, I should clarify

  12. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    As I believe Mr Hitchcock proclaimed "The Birds is Coming!"

  13. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    (Would that be a false enallege?)

  14. Jo said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    The Accademia della Crusca may insist that the prepositions "de" and "ne" don't exist in Italian (see http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/faq/faq_risp.php?id=3947&ctg_id=93 ) and many style guides frown on them, but plenty of Italians seem to think they have a purpose and go on using them anyway.

  15. C said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

    How *would* you handle the "Collier's" example raised by Spell Me Jeff? (It just blew my mind, to invoke Kramer.) Would you have to avoid the possessive case entirely there?

  16. B.Ma said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

    Birds’ readers would have the nonsensical meaning "the readers of birds"

    No… seems to me that it would mean "the readers of Birds".

  17. Chandra said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    I see nothing at all wrong with "Birds' readers". The capital B makes it clear that they're referring to readers of (the magazine) Birds, and not some arcane sect of ornithological interpreters. Not to mention the fact that the context makes it pretty obvious what they mean.

  18. Mark Flowers said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

    @ James – I sympathize with your position, but as a person whose last name is a regular plural noun in English, I can testify that it is somewhat more complicated. As someone who endorses "James's" I try to use "Flowers's" but even to me it sounds wrong, and other people simply refuse to use it. (And don't get me started on how to pluralize my name – sure, you can keep up with the Joneses, but can you really keep up with the Flowerses? I just say "Flowers family")

  19. fs said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    I'm with D Nakassis. The person switch was easily the first thing that stood out to me as odd about that sentence.

    James C.: Strunk and White proclaim that s's should be used for proper names ending in s, with the following caveat:

    Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus', and such forms as for conscience' sake, for righteousness' sake. But such forms as Achilles' heel, Moses' laws, Isis' temple are commonly replaced by the heel of Achilles, the laws of Moses, the temple of Isis.

    Now there's an incomprehensibly fucked up "element of style" for you.

  20. C Thornett said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    On the analogy of '5% off your next holiday for Times readers', I would have thought that no apostrophes were needed. The capital letter and possibly italics should be enough to indicate that the offer is for readers of a journal and not of feathered creatures.

  21. John said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

    Isn't this a more general problem with the English genitive?

    The car of those guys = those guys's car?

    In Italian you do find separated prepositions, often in titles, so:

    de La Divina Commedia, not
    della D. C

  22. Xmun said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

    C Thornett wins, I reckon.

    More generally, let me say I have long believed the modern apostrophe is more trouble than it is worth. The Early Modern English usage was fine. See the titles of the First Folio:

    A Midsommer Nights Dreame.
    The Winters Tale.

    but

    Loues Labour's lost.
    All's Well, that Ends Well.

  23. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

    @James C., I really think that parents's is not correct. At least I can't analyze it any way that makes it successful in your application. If we referred to the audience of Meet the Parents as Parents's watchers then perhaps.

    I too like "Birds' readers", no italics with impunity.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but I tend to rely on how a possessive name or title sounds when spoken to help with the spelling. Mo-se-ses would produce Moses's; fok-ses would yield fox's; and bos-ses leads to boss's because the possessive inflection is pronounced. If I am visiting friends named Jones, I say I am going over to the Jone-ses, not to the Jones. Thus I would write it Jones's, not Jones'. Is this naive? Do those who write Jones' have a valid point?

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    It's normal, though I think wrong, to write genitives of words (or just names?) ending in a consonant + s by adding an apostrophe before the s. Speaking of birds, see how many hits you get for "Mearn's quail", named after Edgar Mearns (and properly known as the Montezuma Quail anyway).

  25. Elijah said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    "… although birds’ is grammatically permissible, it is the genitive plural of bird. Birds’ readers would have the nonsensical meaning 'the readers of birds'." Except that in this case it wouldn't, to concur with Chandra's points above. That doesn't mean of course that there isn't an issue to be worked out with the orthography of English*, but it's observing things like these that can help to move toward a resolution.

    *I deliberately avoided English's or whatever :)

  26. Xmun said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    Do those who write Jones' have a valid point?

    No. You keep up with the Joneses or you visit the Jones's house. Down with "Jones'".

  27. Army1987 said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    The university in L'Aquila is called "Università dell'Aquila", and the FAQ page on their website features a longish explanation of why they call themselves that way. At least in informal contexts, fusing the article with the preposition regardless of its being part of a proper name is what most Italians (including me) do IMO, and I suspect the other forms might have originated as hypercorrections.

  28. Acilius said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    Like fs above, I'm with D Nakassis. The person shift is very awkward.

    As for Collier's, I don't see a problem with "Collier's readers." I always gloss the title Collier's as "Collier's magazine," so that when I look at "Collier's readers" I see "Collier's magazine's readers."

  29. zoetrope said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Regarding the La Repubblica issue, I encountered a perhaps similar problem in dealing with acronyms in Italian. An Italian friend and I spent nearly a whole day arguing about what article to put in front of STO (Service du Travail Obligatoire – we were giving a presentation on the French Resistance).

    When you pronounce each letter individually, roughly "esse ti o", it seems that the correct article should be l', as this is what usually goes before vowels, and it should be pronounced 'lesse ti o'. However, for some reason this doesn't sound quite right. The option of 'il' however ('il esse ti o') also sounds wrong.

    The other option is to pronounce the acronym simply as 'sto', in which case it seems clear that the correct article is 'lo', but then you would run into similar problems with acronyms beginning with vowels. At the time, we looked in some newspapers to see if we could find any examples of acronyms with articles, but all the ones starting with vowel sounds were feminine and took 'la' as the article – for some reason, putting 'la' in front of a word that starts with a vowel doesn't sound as bad as putting 'il' in front of one.

  30. Iulus said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    'In fact with the title of the magazine were set in italics, the sentence would have been "5% off your next cottage holiday for Birds’s readers.'

    Since the sentence also ends without the closing quotation marks, I'm going to assume this sentence is accidental. But if it isn't, however did 'with' replace 'if'? And when did it become possible to use plural verbs with grammatically singular, although semantically plural, nouns.

  31. The Ridger said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    "The heel of Achilles"??? Does anybody really say that? Anybody? The laws of Moses, the Temple of Isis, sure. But "the heel of Achilles"?

    Anyway, the apostrophe is more trouble than it's worth. You can't hear one. Why write it?

  32. Xmun said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    @Jerry Friedman

    It's not just birds' names. Similarly the pasture grass, Chewings fescue, is named after a farmer called Charles Chewings (1859-1937), on whose property the first considerable quantity of seed was harvested. In Orsman's ODNZE the headword has no apostrophe, but several of the illustrative quotations do.

  33. Adrian Bailey said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    Birds' readers is okay; Birds readers is better. I assume the person who wrote "Bird's" did so because they don't understand the relevant grammar.

    I'm a staunch defender of apostrophe-s after s when the apostrophe-s is sounded (e.g. the boss's desk) – something that Americans eschew – but no-one over the age of 8 says *Birds's. It's unidiomatic.

  34. Spell Me Jeff said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    Jone's house refers to the house of a person named Jone.

    Jones's house refers to the house of a person named Jones.

    Jones' house is acceptable, but perhaps unnatural if you'd be inclined (as I) to pronounce it with 2 syllables. But it certainly refers to the house of a person, not a plurality.

    The Joneses' house refers to the house of multiple people named Jones.

    The Jones house refers to any of these dwellings.

  35. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

    Readers of birds are clearly those who practice haruspicy.

  36. An Italian reader said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    "*il direttore della Repubblica (definitely not)".

    Oh, really?!
    But that's the only form I would use (I'm a native speaker of standard Italian).
    I'd never say or write "il direttore de La R." or "di La R.", not even with a gun at my head. I regard these forms as influenced by a strange bureaucratic and pedantic mentality.
    And indeed "della R." is what good grammarians advise us to say and to write. See e.g. Serianni's excellent grammar.

    In French, "le directeur du Monde". And "l'évêque du Mans", "le port du Havre", etc.
    In good, normal, spontaneous, both popular or familiar and literary Italian, "il direttore dell'Unità". And "il terremoto dell'Aquila", "la provincia della Spezia", etc. (the last form is also the official one, by the way). And, of course, only "Pico della Mirandola", "Lanza del Vasto", etc.

    As for Spanish, one wonders: should Cervántes have written "Dulcinea de el Toboso"? Luckily enough, he didn't: "Vino a llamarla 'Dulcinea del Toboso' porque era natural del Toboso". That sounds very good Spanish to me; and his "del Toboso" is a good model for my Italian, too.

  37. groki said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

    nothing wrong with "Birds' readers" for me, either.

    @Xmun:

    ah, I see: on the evidence of 1, 2, and 4, possessive didn't use the apostrophe but is-contraction did.

    and 3 had both: "the labo(u)r of love is lost." from Wikipedia:

    The title is normally given as Love's Labour's Lost. The use of apostrophes varies in early editions. In its first 1598 quarto publication it appears as Loues Labor's Lost. In the 1623 First Folio it is Loues Labour's Lost and in the 1631 edition it is Loues Labours Lost. In the Third Folio it appears for the first time with the modern punctuation and spelling as Love's Labour's Lost.

    the multiple puns that also chime are presumably suggested, too: various combinations of plurals and plural possessives, including the most intriguing variation: "love is: labors [that get] lost."

  38. Scott R. said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

    The simplest way – 5% off your next cottage holiday for Bird Magazine's readers…

    Really, the confusion was between the noun for the flying creature (mostly) and the noun for the magazine itself.

  39. Dan T. said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    I believe, from seeing some written material in Czech (though I don't understand any of that language), that even proper names get altered for different inflections depending on their context.

  40. Bobbie said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    If they see the discount coupon, then people are already reading the magazine! Just say " 5% off on your next cottage holiday" and be done with it!

  41. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 7:27 pm

    @Xmun: Yes, I was just using that quail since it's an example I know. Partly, examples such as Mearn's and Chewing's might come from people who think the original names were Mearn and Chewing. I got only 29 results for "Howard Hawk's best", compared to 26,100 for "Howard Hawks best" (that includes Hawks') and 2,370 for "Howard Hawks's best". (I didn't go to the end of any of those.)

    @Adrian Bailey:

    I'm a staunch defender of apostrophe-s after s when the apostrophe-s is sounded (e.g. the boss's desk) – something that Americans eschew – but no-one over the age of 8 says *Birds's. It's unidiomatic.

    This American is a staunch defender of that too, but I agree that a lot of Americans write the boss' desk and quite a few even say James' dog.

    Also, a lot of Americans say you guys's or your guys's for the genitive of you guys.

  42. Ellen K. said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    I would say/write "Newsweek readers", "Time readers", etc. "Newsweek's readers" and "Time's readers" sound wrong to me. Thus, I would go with "Birds readers", no possessive. Unless I decided to rewrite as "readers of Birds".

  43. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    @Andrew (not the same one), could your observation have been influenced by the imminent American Thanksgiving? Ahh, giblet gravy. I wonder what that portends.

  44. Dw said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

    I add 's for all possessives except for regularly formed plurals, so

    Birds's readers is fine with me.

    Birds' readers is not.

    However there is a great deal of variation in usage out there. A recent Supreme Court Opinion thinks that the possessive of Congress is Congress', which is truly mind-blowing to me (see e.g. page 2 of the PDF).

  45. An Italian reader said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 8:47 pm

    (Sorry. In my post, for "Cervántes" please read "Cervantes", with no accent.)

  46. Nick said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

    @zoetrope I often have that problem too. Italians seem to pronounce acronyms as words very often (e.g. CIA becoming "Cia" or pronounced like the animal-shaped plant that grows plant hair)

    I think lo Sto is what I would have said, but I don't know if there are conventions on what acronyms to pronounce as words, if it's only popular ones, etc.

  47. Frank said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

    For Matt, who sold us a car at Ford City in Champaign IL last week, the genitive of _you guys_ is _you guys's_.

  48. Gordon Campbell said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 1:08 am

    5% off your next cottage holiday for augurs?

  49. Julie said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    @Frank: I don't think I'd ever write such a thing, but I'm pretty sure I've said "you guys's" a time or two. Don't know about Matt, but when you're from California, stuff like that just slips out now and then….

    "Birds readers" seems like the cleanest way to do that phrase. I wouldn't even try to make a genitive of it.

  50. Kapitano said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 4:33 am

    What exactly is wrong with multiple apostrophes? We say things like "couldn't've" and "Fish 'n' Chips" all the time, but it's forbidden to write – for no reason beyond some centuries-old arbitrary rule.

  51. Richard Sabey said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 4:37 am

    Like Dw, but unlike Chandra, Mr Fnortner, Adrian Bailey and groki, I think "Birds' readers" is not OK. Except for classical-name genitives the way some people like to write them (Achilles', etc.), every genitive that ends in the apostrophe is a genitive plural. Thus Birds' would have specifically indicated the wrong thing: a genitive plural.

    "Birds readers" is fine. If an alternative were needed: "readers of Birds".

  52. Adam said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 5:28 am

    I agree with "for Birds readers" (or "for Birds readers"). "Guardian readers", "Telegraph readers", "National Geographic readers", etc., are all idiomatic.

  53. stormboy said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 8:51 am

    @Iulus: "And when did it become possible to use plural verbs with grammatically singular, although semantically plural, nouns."

    If you're looking for a date, I can't help but if you're questioning if this is grammatical – it is for many people in the UK and is widely used in the media (the government/police/England [football team] are… etc.).

  54. Colin John said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    @Iulus/stormboy:
    I assume that 'with' should have been, or originally was, 'if' and thus the phrase should have read: "if the title of the magazine were set in italics"; in which case the singular/plural issue doesn't apply as 'were' is 3rd person singular subjunctive.
    Personally I would go with "Birds'" for the reasons others have already noted.

  55. Terry Collmann said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    There is a similar problem to the Italian newspaper one with English language newspapers whose titles begin with The (capitalised) as in The Times. "Mr Cameron was interviewed by a reporter from The Times", fine, but not, surely, "Mr Cameron was interviewed by The Times chief political correspondent", rather "Mr Cameron was interviewed by the Times chief political correspondent" – although maybe "Mr Cameron was interviewed by The Times's chief political correspondent."

    I am surprised, incidentally, that no one has yet mentioned the problem of singular possessive after names ending in double-s, such as Bass's brewery.

  56. Chandra said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    Somewhat off topic, but I saw a beauty of an atrostrophe* on a Christmas decoration yesterday: MRS CLAUSE' KITCHEN

    (*Descriptivist or not, one can hardly argue that this was the best option out of all of the possible ways to genitivize "Mrs. Claus".)

  57. John Cowan said,

    November 24, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

    fs: Strunk & White are being entirely descriptive there: people who add 's to all proper nouns really do make an exception for those particular cases.

    Ridger: I agree that heel of Achilles sounds bizarre, but I can't think of any reason why it should. Of course, in figurative use Achilles heel, a noun-noun compound, is the Right Thing, and so is Achilles tendon for the actual tendon.

    Mr. Fnortner: The only people who write Jones' are those who think that newsprint paper is worth its weight in gold and that if any punctuation mark can be dropped without completely irresolvable ambiguity it should be.

    Mark Flowers: Flowerses sounds great to me.

    Terry Collman: The New York Times also insists on its capitalized The in all constructions, forcing it to write things like A reporter of The New York Times rather than the more natural A New York Times reporter. I myself hold that it is better to sacrifice faithfulness by dropping the article at the beginning of a title when a possessive precedes it: "Nathaniel Philbrick's Last Stand", not "Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand". Of course, "Nathaniel Philbrick's last stand" would be a different thing altogether!

    In cases where article-dropping might damage the meaning, as in "Keynes's treatise The Economic Consequences of the Peace" (which purported to treat all of them), or "Philip MacDonald's mystery The Rasp", it's easy to introduce a separating noun, as this sentence does.

  58. Barbara Partee said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 1:43 am

    I am so impressed by all these comments! Geoff, I'm glad that you haven't stopped allowing comments! I wish there were an easy way to save sets of comments like these, so one could use them in a class to get discussion going. There are a lot of interesting and sometime conflicting principles and desiderata concerning inflection in general and genitives in particular discussed here.

  59. Craig said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 5:29 am

    I have to agree with D. Nakassis. Beyond the incorrectly punctuated possessive, I really dislike the switch between second and third persons. I would have recast this as "Birds readers, get 5% off your next cottage getaway". Putting a vocative-like form after a preposition just seems awkward to me.

  60. Ellen K. said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

    I don't read it as a switch to 3rd person. Still talking to Birds readers, not about them, just naming them instead of using a pronoun.

  61. Nelida said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    Just a small humble suggestion. Why not insert the word "magazine" for instance, to disambiguate. "Birds Magazine's readers" or simply "Birds Magazine readers".

  62. Xmun said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

    @Terry Collman:
    I don't see any problem with Bass's brewery, nor for that matter with (these made-up examples) Tess's boyfriend or Ross's bicycle.

  63. Terry Collmann said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

    Xmun, you may not, but others have done in the past.

  64. John said,

    November 26, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    I've no problem at all with "Birds' readers". I parse it as "readers of Birds", (magazine) being understood. Italicized, it would be even more clear, but it's sufficiently clear to me. I dislike, on purely my own grounds, "Bird readers". That, to me, would indeed be one who read birds and/or Birds.

    Don't, btw, dismiss the utility to typesetters or compositors of being able to lose a letter! There's little quite so annoying as having a sentence suddenly bump onto a new line (or worse, page) because of a stinking little "s" hanging around after the apostrophe!

  65. Atmir Ilias said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 1:35 am

    Il direttore di "La Republika".
    "Birds"s readers- I think it would be fine for the written langauge.
    For the spoken language it needs to be added the spoken sound "e" between the two "s's".

  66. Deanna said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    I just wanted to say thank you to Spell Me Jeff for so clearly laying out the same argument I have been making since 8th grade with regard to my own name. I feel vindicated.

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