Submitted by tommy on August 21, 2004

Eels’ or Eels’s?

Say you had a band, called Eels, or the Eels. Now would you say the Eels’s debut album, or the Eels’ debut album. As Eels is a name, but a plural name, and you aren’t talking about the debut album of several eels. I’m sorry to ask. It’s the one apostrophe trouble I have.

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A postscript: It's interesting that Eels have given in and are using "www.theeels.com" as a website name. They used to be *very* insistent (like Talking Heads before them) that there was no "the" in their name.

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Dan-

It's fine to point out that Fowler's is old (and even to call him "confused", although that sort of statement usually requires some backup), but you have to replace it with some sort of authority if you're going to call your post the "definitive answer". Based on what do you make this claim? I've seen a variety of material about this, and ievery source seems to have its own way of doing this. There are only two things that are generally agreed upon:

1. Plurals ending in "s" should have only an apostrophe added (no additional "s") when made possessive

2. Words (whether plural or singular) not ending in "s" should have both an apostrophe and an s added.

There is simply *no* consensus about what to do with singular words that end in "s". Some think it's optional; some think you should always use the apostrophe only; some think you should always use both apostrophe and "s"; some think it's a matter of the word's length or presence of a schwa, or specifically of an "e", before the "s"; some even think there's a special "classical Greek" exception.

It's also not, as the above posters have pointed out, uncontroversially true that "Eels," used as the name of a band, is plural. "Eels is a band" certainly sounds far more grammatical to me than "Eels are a band."

Finally, I'd *strongly* disagree with your claim that a grammar text is a better source than a good style guide. Grammar texts are, in general, of interest only to grammar teachers. Good style guides are usually put together by consulting those who are widely regarded as very successful users of the language--well-respected writers, orators, and journalists. In determining how to write well, I know which group *I'd* rather throw in my lot with.

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You know what I really wish? I wish there was a moderator for this website that would delete all those spam postings like the posting above. It should be possible to have a moderator who would not change postings based on content or ideas, but just eliminate all the spam.

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btw, The Eels actually does exist as a band, you can find them on http://www.theeels.com or http://www.eelstheband.com

It should be "The Eels is my favourite band" and "The Eels are great". I don't know why but it's just a feeling ^^

Also, yes, Eels is plural, but The Eels is the name of A band, one band, not multiple bands, so The Eels isn't plural, while just Eels is... unless you don't know of the existance of the band of course...


Anyway, have a nice day!

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Definitive answer:
Words that are plural and end in s require the form --s'. Therefore, since Eels, the word, is plural and ends in s so its possessive must be Eels'. And we have "the Eels' debut album." Also, the Smiths' car, the Baskervilles' hound, the albums' purchasers, etc.

Other words that are plural and do not end in s require --'s. To wit: the children's room, or the oxen's owner.

Other words that end in s and are not plural also require --'s. To wit: The boss's house, or the atlas's index.

All words that are singular, even those that end in an s-sound require --'s. To wit: the cat's meow, the bee's knees, the fox's den, or the Jazz's coach.

Had the band been named Eelz, a nifty name, then the possessive would be Eelz's.

In summary:
1. plural ending in s, add '
2. *everything* else, add 's
Corollary: be not confused by the sound of s or z on the end of a word in the singular. It is a trap. Always follow rule #2.

PS--I've read and referred to Fowler, and I have a copy on my bookshelf. He is sometimes confused, not to mention dated.

PPS--Style guides are useful, but they are not always grammatical. If they were, then they would be redundant, and thereby unnecessary. A good grammar text would suffice instead.

Good luck.

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Oops. Sorry, that last "Anonymous" was me, Porsche.

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Oooohh, so let me get this straight. You're not saying that it depends on whether the s is voiced or unvoiced. You're saying it must be voiced with no interceding consonant? I think I understand the paradigm you're suggesting, but, I have to say, I'm not sure that I buy it.

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porsche: In speech, the final sound of Bridges is the same sound as you make for 's.

The sound at the end of Dickens and Eels is not the same sound as that made for the 's.
The tip of the tongue makes a subtle 'pop' between the n and s of Dickens and between the l and s of Eels.

Is the distinction too subtle to warrant a rule?
Almost definitely.

My personal take on this is that in writing you should use 's, but if you feel this may lead the reader to pronounce an 's sound twice you have a case for using s' instead.

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Actually, either way is correct, s' or s's. AP style, for example, always uses s' because it saves space in a newspaper. However, an English teacher would tell you to use s's, as in "Bridget Jones's Diary."

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I'm a little confused, Fowlerfan. Dickens and Eels DO end in an "-iz" sound, so why did you add the 's?

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Regarding the use of apostrophes for possessives - they're a little thornier than one first suspects.

In "The Eels's debut album", "The Eels" is the name of the band so:

The Eels's debut album
Dire Straits's debut album
Thomas's covenant
Dickens's novels
Moss's car

are the correct formations.

's should be used in English names and surnames (and this applies to 'The Eels', I believe) whenever possible, according to Fowler's.

For nouns that already end in an "-iz" sound it is customary to omit the s though:
Moses'
Bridges'
The fact that a noun may end with an "s" (or even "ss") is not important; that it ends with an "-iz" sound is, however.

Strangely (to my mind) Fowler's also indicates that classical names use s', not 's:
Mars'
Herodotus'
Venus'
Socrates'
but then I'm not a scholar of ancient Greek or Latin afterall.

Place-names are their own beast and follow their own conventions:
The Queen's College (Oxford)
Queens' College (Cambridge)
John Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA)
Essentially, whatever the historical convention is, is correct. You could name your house "Thomas's's house" if you wanted, and nobody could tell you otherwise. ;)

The Eels's debut album it should be.

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Also correct: Eels's

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Correct: Eels'

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Or just avoid the problem by saying "The debut album of the Eels".

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I find the rule is actually less than one of rigorous grammar, but rather one of phonology.

Namely, would you speak the possesive "-ez" or "-es" suffix when spoken? if so, then tack on 's. If not, just use ' by itself.

The Joneses are coming to dinner. The Joneses' minivan holds six. They're bringing Grandma Jones's carrot cake.

Eels as a band is a proper name
The Eels' second album was lousy.

btw: plural of eel can be eel or eels so it's not a clear example since the reader may hear it differently.

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If you're just asking about the location of the apostrophe, then you could get away with "Eels' " for both singular and plural, since in US English putting an apostrophe on the end of a singular OR plural noun ending in "s" will make it possessive.

We're going to see all of the Sims' home movies tonight. ("Sims" being the name of a family).

I went to Mr. Sims' office today.

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The Waffle House combo? Scattered, smothered, covered, topped, chunked... and tossed.

The "Ten Items or Less/Fewer" is the oldest joke in the English tutor's repertoire, admitted. :)

I can complicate the "eels" issue beyond belief by introducing culinary French; do you think of a hypothetical dish "aubergines Bonne Femme" as singular or plural, though it is plural in French? I would be inclined to say, "Aubergines Bonne Femme is, roughly speaking, an eggplant stew with vegetables."

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Regardless of the plurality of the word, do you consider the item singular...or the items plural? *

Eels is my favorite dish. (Eels is a "dish")
Eels are best served... (Eels ARE eels, after all)

Grits, although a "dish", is plural. Nobody can eat just one. Grit, that is.

Now, I'd love to see the Waffle House serve Eels and Grits, just on a lark, to see how this particular combo plate sells compared to Steak and Hash Browns. (I just don't want to be part of that focus group!)

* also, consider the "Ten Items or Less" sign in the supermarket. Should it be worded "Ten Items or Fewer"?

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The band, The Beatles, is great

or

The Beatles are great.

The Who are great

Paul McCartney is great.

I think with a specific band, of whom we know that there are several members, we tend to attribute the adjective to the entire group, and therefore make it plural, but when attributed to some generic grouping of musicians, then we tend to use the singular.

It's not logical or consistent, I agree.

David

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I can never cover all of my thoughts in one post...

There is a breakfast food, gruel made from ground lye-treated corn, known in the Southern US as "hominy grits," or just "grits." (No, really, grits are good, but you'll never believe me until you have them.)

Yes, the dish "grits" always takes plural everything, even though the dish is essentially coarse white cornmeal polenta.

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Hmmm. Compare:

"My favorite band is The Eels."
"Five guys from my hometown are now The Eels."
"The Eels' financial backers left them after the lead guitarist's girlfriend stole the tour bus." (here I am thinking of them as individuals)
"We have all of The Eels's early work." (here I am thinking of them as a unit)

"Eels is my favorite dish."
"Eels are best served in a white wine and garlic sauce."

To the best of my knowledge all of these are correct (US English). Your thoughts?

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There is also a UK/US difference here to be aware of, by the way. In my experience, the British are happy to attach a plural verb to a singular noun, eg. as in MY CHURCH ARE A WONDERFUL BUNCH or THE GROUP ARE COMING DOWN TO MEET US TONIGHT, where US speakers would say MY CHURCH IS or THE GROUP IS.

Just a possible difference that might affect this.

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You pose a tricky one. You're right that there are cases where a plural noun functions as a singular noun, e.g. in the sentence PHYSICS IS MY FAVOURITE SUBJECT.

I'm trying to approach this by putting THE EELS in a different sentence. Would you say THE EELS IS MY FAVOURITE BAND or THE EELS ARE MY FAVOURITE BAND?

Or we could even change the name to make it more familiar to our brains: THE BEATLES IS MY FAVOURITE BAND or THE BEATLES ARE MY FAVOURITE BAND?

Actually, I'm leaning towards ARE. I can hear THE BEATLES ARE GREAT, but not THE BEATLES IS GREAT.

Hmm, not conclusive, but a few thoughts, anyway.

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