Now reopened

This apparently simple, question about possessive S has been closed:

"The species/species'/species's survival..."

However, I think that in this case this was a bit overhasty. This question has hidden depths relating not only to spelling and orthography but also English morphology and phonology. I've added a bit of research. Can we reopen it, please?

  • 1
    Voted to reopen. Your edits are nice.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 10:06
  • 6
    My (annoying) commentary: the OP's original was very closable. It's very elementary, should be multiple duplicates already, it was about some test question, the exact question wasn't clear, and seemed like proofreading. So it was prime closing material. That said, the content was modified considerably making it a quality question.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 11:52
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    @Mitch I concur mostly. I'd just point out however, that it isn't in fact very simple. The reason is that singular nouns ending in /z/ or /s/ usually receive the suffix /ɪz/. So the possessive of bus has an extra syllable and we get /bʌsɪz/, and that extra syllable there warrants, according to many style manuals etc and extra 's in the orthography. But something weird is going on with species, because Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 12:00
  • 3
    @Mitch ...because even when singular, it does not receive this extra syllable. So in the species' survival we don't say /spi:ʃi:ziz / we just say /spi:ʃi:z/. For that reason the 's doesn't appear to be warranted. The interesting question is why species appears to buck the rules here. But, of course, that info doesn't immediately leap off the page at you when you read the original question, so it would be easy to miss. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 12:03
  • Relatedly, I think the following question should be reopened so something like Clare's answer can be posted to it. I don't think it is a real duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/questions/412730/…
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 19:36
  • 1
    Write your own question instead of vandalising other people's questions. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 4:43
  • @curiousdannii Sorry.. what do you mean? Who vandalized what here?
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:28
  • 4
    @NVZ Araucaria by adding lots of bogus research the OP never did. How is anyone meant to help the OP be less confused when other people add in stuff to their question which they know nothing about? In this specific case, the OP never specifically mentioned APA style guidelines nor the issue of names. Any answer talking about those will be addressing Araucaria's question, not the OP's. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:36
  • @curiousdannii ah, you meant this: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9686/…
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:39
  • @NVZ More like this Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:50
  • 1
    @curiousdannii Interesting... out of those comments, yours already had my upvote. Already.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 13:46
  • @Araucaria I donno. I have no set mind. I follow what I agree with at the time. That comment I mentioned had my upvote is old. I may have got newer info about these things, and may have changed my mind several times in between. For now, I reopened that question for you and the first comment here is mine appreciating your efforts. P.S. I am not liking your sarcasm (or whatever that was). ;)
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 15:40
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    @Araucaria: I don't think closing the question is helpful to the OP, but I agree with CD that editing to add "research" that isn't the OP's is not ideal and potentially confusing. I know you did it to try to help the question get re-opened, but I wish that kind of tactic wasn't necessary. I think the question was fine and on-topic in its original form. This is why I don't like the expansion from "general reference" as a close reason to "not enough research".
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


So the original form is somewhat wrong on a substantive point or two, which weakens my original point. Series is clearly singular possessive, so it is not quite as bad as I originally supposed, mostly because the consensus is not as strong as that. As a result, this question may be askable. This warrants a reassessment of the issue on my part. After doing so, I still suspect it should be closed, but perhaps it may be salvageable.

Many of the points remain the same. To reitterate and clarify:

  1. The edit's usefulness in excluding general reference answers is still not apparent, because it addresses a rule written specifically for personal names specifically, rather than common nouns, or even proper nouns generally.

  2. Commonly available resources that should have been checked have not been factored into the question, permitting them to be used as the sole basis of an answer.

  3. I think the scope of the question is narrower than proposed. Although they can be closely related and complimentary, what should be done, and why it is done are two different subjects. I only saw a question asking what should be done, and answers addressing what should be done. Editing guidelines suggest we should not change the intention of a post, and I suspect that is what is being attempted.

  4. The propensity of this being a duplicate is high, also due to the commodity of the subject matter of using apostrophes with a noun ending in terminal s.

What may be at issue is that because I misparsed a couple of things, my proposed general references referencing the most basic orthographic do not adequately address the matter. That might be true.

However in consideration of that possibility, that does not necessarily mean that the research is good enough in its present form. The standard for general reference is to perform research regarding the question per step 1 of the flowchart.

What I was proposing before was rather substandard research, to emphasize the hopelessness of the matter if a basic orthographic rule applied. This is something that shows that perhaps the question can be salvaged, but not necessarily that it is good enough in its present form.

Before I perform a reassessment based upon that though, I would like to suggest that the research standard for editors should be higher than for original posters, because getting information from the original posters benefits us in ways that editing it in does not:

A. It helps us to understand, and address any misapprehensions made apparent by the inadequate research efforts. When we add research on their behalf.

B. It helps us to understand what type of explanations and evidence fail to satisfy the questioner. This way, we do not end up repeating what they already saw, or merely use evidence of the same quality. This also promotes further explanation of the issue, beyond what references can provide.

Without some indication from the questioner, an editor can only speculate as to what type of answer can satisfy somebody else, so they should assume that any reasonably adequate answer that might be readily found could suffice, and must perform a research effort to see if one exists. You say that this question has its basis in pronunciation, which is possible.

Your concerns regarding why we spell species' the way we do (assuming that is a uniform rule, which I have reason to doubt) are not the same as O.P's. concerns regarding how he should spell it. These are admittedly complimentary subjects, but the requisite for an adequate answer to the question as it is asked is lower for this one, we need to keep in mind what was actually asked:

Any authoritative suggestion regarding how to spell the singular possessive form of the word suffices to answer this question, regardless of whether or not what causes us to spell the word that way is the same.

With these factors in mind this respect, we need to consider the question as it was actually asked: A research effort was disclosed, but not included, the intended, adequate context was given, and finally the question was asked:

Would it be species' or species's ?

No reason for suspecting one way or the other is better was indicated by the questioner. I see no reason anybody should have to explain the phonological aspects that may underlie the orthography, or even much effort to address them in any existing answer. Any relatively authoritative suggestion may suffice.

I have devised a basic few searches to see if I could find one, and perhaps not for the reason you might suspect. What I am trying to determine is what answers they share in common, so I can know what any one person might have found if they had only used one of the searches. I want to avoid treating google itself as general reference, because it is not and if it was, that could put us out of a job. I want to see if a general reference result can be easily found using google, qualifying it as a commonly available resource and hence off-topic.

First, to avoid setting my own potentially biased standards, I interpreted the flowchart given in Are Some Questions Too Basic most literally, and did a word for word search for the question as it was asked. I used series in both of the other searches, to see what the specific rules regarding that word may be. I used apostrophe in one of the searches, since that is the name of the mark in question, and hence reasonably derived from the sentence/question as possible (since the actual mark in isolation doesn't bear much upon google search results). I used possessive instead in the other, since this regards the possessive form.

My three searches bear three interesting results in common:

  1. An older potential duplicate question, with an existing answer. The duplicate guidelines suggest that preference should be given to this newer question, since it is in an overall better state, but I think this should have been considered before reopening.

  2. A couple of grammarbook entries, from the the website of The Blue Book of Punctuation and Grammar's (by Jane Straus [deceased]). One is just a gloss over in a pop quiz format, so I shall omit it for brevity, but the more interesting of which is Apostrophes: Dueling Rules, which states the following:

• CMOS adds just an apostrophe when a noun ending in s is the same whether singular or plural. The guidebook offers three examples: politics’ true meaning, economics’ forerunners, and this species’ first record. The GrammarBook.com staff agrees with politics’ and economics’, but prefers this species’s, because in normal English usage, species is just as likely to be singular as it is to be plural—one often hears “a species,” but who says “a politics” or “an economics”?

These results suggest that the question is not quite up to standards, since the grammarbook website was a professionally endeavor, designed to address these issues, and makes mention of the Chicago Manual of Style rule considered to be the authoritative answer. The difference of opinion leaves a little room for doubt, but not much if this is a presumably reliable report, given how much more respected the Chicago Manual of Style itself is.

Now perhaps I am mistaken, but I suspect anybody perhaps research for this question in earnest could have at least found these results. Editing this information into the question would most certainly be barred, as an attempt to reply (as it is meant to answer the question)

My most preferred result would be for the original poster to include their own research, for the reasons aforementioned in points A. and B. Failing that, especially since it may be harder to coax that information out of a question with an accepted answer, I would really appreciate information regarding what research methodologies went into determining that the question should be reopened. Perhaps that can give some perspective on whether or not the answer is really as readily answerable as I presently surmise, and meritorious enough to merit remaining open.

Otherwise, I still recommend closure of the question in its current state.

  • 3
    Clare's answer contradicts the sources that you indicate give an answer. Could you enlighten the long-suffering readers here whether it should be species' or species's? Do you even know which usage you think your answer supports? Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 1:24
  • The CMOS is not a widely available resource. It's behind a paywall. I accessed it through a library account. But it is a much more authoritative source than any you mention. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 12:55


The problem with your answer here is that you don't seem to be able to distinguish singular and plural nouns. Look carefully at the example from the Original Poster:

  • The only evidence of the species' survival before ITS rediscovery at the end of the century was an unconfirmed recording.

Here the pronoun its is referring back to the species. This clearly shows that the species is singular here. If it was plural, the sentence would read:

  • The only evidence of the species' survival before THEIR rediscovery at the end of the century was an unconfirmed recording.

So, basically, your post is off-topic, and even had the links and advice not been wonky:

  • if the noun is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s. (This, of course, would result in: this specie's survival)

you would still be missing the Original Poster's problem, which is basically that the possessive form of a word ending in an /s/ and written with an S is usually suffixed with an extra syllable represented in the writing by ['S]. The possessive of species has no such extra syllable - and so should it have an extra ['S] or just be punctuated: species'?

  • In isolation from my error, I am not sure how this is supposed the matter of which status the question should actually have, so I am voting against it now. This is especially relevant now since I have just tried to address the error since then. Would you consider independently explaining why this is a matter of interest in greater detail, and why it is helpful enough to remain open? I would be especially interested in knowing your research methods, and what your standards of an authoritative answer is to help me assess how hard the information is to discover one. I might change my mind then.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 1:15
  • @Tonepoet I can't understand your especially relevant point : "I am not sure how this is supposed the matter of which status the question should actually have, so I am voting against it now." Could you translate? Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 7:51
  • @Aracana Oh, that is embarrassing! I am not sure if I can do it in the space of a comment, but I shall try: I fractured the sentence trying to fit all of my words within the comment's character limit. It's supposed to read "…supposed [to explain] the…", if that helps. If I must put it another way, then your answer only seems to critique my own answer, rather than answer your question. As a critique, it is valid, but I am rating it on its merits as an answer, because it is posted as such. What is your interpretation of the relevant policies, as you understand them, and how do they apply here?
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 11:54
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    @Araucaria Why didn't you just write your own question, especially if it was so quick? Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 12:23
  • @Tonepoet See that little three and a half line post at the top of the page. It got the Q reopened. Originally it had no really good answers, only the stuff that you reproduced in your post. It now has a fairly good answer with 5 votes that's both accurate and addresses the specific grammatical properties of the word in question. It now stands as a helpful guide for future readers who would find it difficult to obtain that specific piece of information amongst the tide of run of the mill advice on possessive apostrophes. Job done, in my opinion. In the face of that, what's your post for? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 9:18
  • @Araucaria Did you see my revised research effort? Upon reassessment, I do not think the job is accomplished. I suspect the requested information is too easy to obtain by anybody performing a search likely to lead them to that page, so I do not think this helps future visitors. I do not presently think these answers are useful, and would like a question where the threshold of admissible evidence is more persuasive than simple reference, with the hope of piquing interest in fuller explanations. Nobody really even addressed the phonology, and the morphology is barely even addressed by Chicago.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 12:18
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    @Tonepoet I did, unfortunately. It's like having to listen about how Donald Trump invented the word fake, or having to read the Daily Mail, or like being savaged by a sheep with scrapie - apart from it was far less entertaining. Do you have nothing better to do than harangue people under a "status completed" post with no votes, on the basis that you've got a downvoted post underneath it, when nobody gives a toss either way? You have, as far as I can see ... Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 23:25
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    @Tonepoet ...about 105 posts, a large proportion of which are copy and paste excerpts from online dictionaries. Does that not make you pause for thought? But, if you want to continue with this unproductive and inane drivel here, knock yourself out. I'll come back and read it for entertainment when I'm paralysed in bed, out of books with my TV on the blink, having lost the will to die. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 23:25
  • @Araucaria I also take the matter of corroboration seriously, and there is more than one variety in that exemplified answer, among other considerations. However, that debate is mostly beyond the scope of this topic, and should be taken to a more appropriate venue if we should wish to have it, which I suspect we do not. Regarding this matter, I was hoping we could reach a greater understanding since the votes demonstrate this matter is contentious, but I think we both made every relevant point we have to make, so further debate is pointless, and we shall just have to amicably agree to disagree.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 23:45

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