Usage Notes

Plural and Possessive Names: A Guide

Why is it "Socrates' Deathbed" but "Dickens's Novels"?

What to Know

Names are pluralized like regular words. Add -es for names ending in "s" or "z" and add -s for everything else. When indicating the possessive, if there is more than one owner add an apostrophe to the plural; if there is one owner, add 's to the singular (The Smiths' car vs. Smith's car). If the possessive involves a last name ending with "s" or "z," you can add either. Special rules apply for classical and biblical names.

The plurals of last names are just like the plurals of most nouns. They typically get formed by adding -s. Except, that is, if the name already ends in s or z. Then the plural is formed by adding -es.

the Smith clan → the Smiths

Jill and Sam Clarence → the Clarences

Mr. and Mrs. Jones → the Joneses

the Fernandez family → the Fernandezes

socrates death or socrates death

"And remember—it's Socrates' deathbed, but Zeus's lovers."

Unlike regular nouns that end in y, names that end in y are also made plural by adding -s:

the Kennedy clan → the Kennedys

the Daley family → the Daleys

Possession And Names

If you want to talk about something that belongs to more than one member of a family, you start with the plural form and add an apostrophe to show possession:

the Smiths' car

a party at the Fernandezes' house

the Daleys' driveway

If you want to talk about something that belongs to a single person being identified by last name, you follow the usual -'s rule for most names:

the car that belongs to Smith → Smith's car

For names that end in an s or z sound, though, you can either add -'s or just an apostrophe. Going with -'s is the more common choice:

the car that belongs to Jones → Jones's car or Jones' car

Special Rules for Classical Names

For classical and biblical names there are other rules. For names ending in s or es and having two or more syllables, you usually just add an apostrophe. If the name is only one syllable, add -'s.

Socrates' students

Ramses' kingdom

Amos' prophecy

Zeus's warnings

The names Jesus and Moses are always made possessive with the apostrophe alone:

Jesus' disciples

Moses' law

Silent Ending Letters

The usual way to show possession with a name that ends in a silent s, z, or x is with -'s.

Didier Deschamps's career

Josquin des Prez's music

Eugène Delacroix's paintings

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!