Possessive acronyms

Do any major style guides frown on possessive acronyms?
One client’s style manual preferred

The SDMB primary objective is to fight ignorance.


The SDMB’s primary objective is to fight ignorance.

In reviewing a recent update, the preference is no longer stated. The manual is not comprehensive, so before I start using apostrophes with reckless abandon, I thought to ask the Dope.

Note I still prefer the first example and will continue with it. But sometimes it can take quite an effort to avoid the apostrophe, so this could make things flow a bit easier.

For context, this is formal writing.

FWIW, I would always use the possessive. Your first sentence sounds completely wrong.

However, context is still necessary. What manual were you using, what field is it for, and when was it written? This sounds suspiciously like a very old fashioned style that has been lost in time.

Just trying to apply common sense…

I’m wondering if the preference is no longer stated because it was found to be rather ridiculous. “NASA’s plan to explore Venus was implemented in 2005” sounds natural and to my mind wouldn’t seem at all informal or improper, whereas “The NASA plan to…” sounds odd, and arguably could have a slightly different connotation.

Variation on this theme: if the initial mention is spelled out and defined as an acronym/initialism in parentheses, like so:

“The Department of Energy (DOE) has chosen…”

How does one make it possessive?

  1. “The Department of Energy’s (DOE) leadership has chosen…”

  2. “The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) leadership has chosen…”

To me, 2) sounds more euphonious, and obeys parallel structure. But it is a bit odd that following uses of the acronym will be just “DOE” and the initial definition is “DOE’s.”

Surprisingly, the Chicago Manual of Style Online apparently gets this very question so frequently that they won’t directly answer it:

Yeah, I know it should be re-written, but if I can’t convince the author to re-write, and I have to use a possessive original to define an acronym/initialism, I wish the Chicago Manual of Style Online would weigh in on one side or the other.

I’d welcome the Teeming Millions’s (TM’s)…uh, ™…uh…dammit…advice.

There are many possessive acronyms I frown upon.

“I bought loads of DVD’s last week!”

I think [del]the CMS’s stance[/del] the stance taken by the CMS as mentioned in Sailboat’s post makes sense.

“DVD’s” isn’t possessive at all. It’s a plural. There was a [del]recent[/del] thread debating the use of the apostrophe in that case. Even among those advocating the use of apostrophe, there were various competing reasons WHY it should be used.

See http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=513730
especially post #8 there.

Very poor writing, for the authors of a style guide:

A ban on which construction? There are two different alternatives presented.

This is a plural, not a possessive, and should not get an apostrophe. But it would get an apostrophe if it were a possessive, as in:

“The DVD’s surface is scratched.”

Only people should show possession. This rule is actually pretty much obsolete. I’m just noting that at one time that was the guideline. Prescriptivists oughta love it.

I agree it’s opaque. I take it to mean “in the next edition I hope we will issue an explicit ban on any construction that requires an acronym/initialism to be possessive. Rewrite to avoid.”

And why do you think I frown upon it?

FWIW, to me both constructions sound equally valid.

I would like to know who invented that rule and when. And why. Because in Old English and Middle English any noun could take the genitive case/possessive form, not just people’s. cite And what about the non-person possessive pronoun its? Doesn’t that violate the alleged rule? Special pleading for its to remain in the language?

E.g. OE
on oðre healfe þæs mores ‘on the other side of the moor’
þæs landes sceawunge ‘the observation of the land’

Worldes blysse

The use of the of-possessive was an innovation in Middle English paralleling the French possessive with de. But Middle English didn’t have a rule that only people could have the -es possessive—did they?

Oh—Is that rule the reason why people started omitting the possessive from phrases like “two weeks’ notice,” forcing Lynne Truss to roam all over London with a magic marker filling in the missing apostrophes?

I would write:

The SDMB’s primary objective is to fight ignorance.

NASA’s plan to explore Venus was implemented in 2005.

I have about a million CDs.

The CD’s surface is scratched.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s new rule is insane.

H’w ab’t w’ 'm’t 'll v’w’ls, p’tt’ng 'n ‘p’str’ph’ ‘n pl’c’ ‘f ‘ch ‘n’.
(M’lt’pl’ c’ns’c’t’v’ v’w’ls ‘nl’ g’t ‘n’ ‘p’str’ph’.)

S’? Th’t w’sn’t s’ d’ff’c’lt, w’s 't?

[spoiler]How about we omit all vowels, putting an apostrophe in place of each one.
(Multiple consecutive vowels only get one apostrophe.)

See? That wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Y’’ s’ cr’zy.

’ ’ ’ ‘’ ’ ’ ’ ’


If you use an apostrophe in posessives AND ‘-is’ contractions, how do you tell the difference?

For example, does the phrase “That company really knows it’s sh**,” mean they’re really knowledgeable about their profession, or that they have some serious self-esteem issues?

Obviously you don’t know. You have to have the whole context of the larger, extended discourse.

Such ambiguity would happen all the time with language if all you did were to examine single sentences or utterances randomly decontextualized.

The word “its” is an exception to the rule that possessives get apostrophes, precisely for this reason. “It’s” is the contraction of “it is”; “its” is the impersonal possessive.

Your phrase isn’t ambiguous unless spoken. In writing, the apostrophe makes a difference.