Sunday, July 02, 2006

Plural Trouble

This just in: AOL makes it tough for subscribers to cancel.

In the midst of that breaking news, though, the NY Times demonstrates clumsiness of its own with plural possessives:

In 2004, AOL signed an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission about problems related to — care to make a guess? — subscriber's requests for cancellation. That was followed last year with an "assurance of discontinuance" reached with Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general, concerning — yes — subscriber's requests for cancellation. In both cases, investigations had revealed that AOL practiced a strange form of customer service, continuing to bill subscribers who had called to cancel, and had thought that they had done so, but who were marked down as "saved."
We know the AOL trouble affects more than one subscriber. So, it should be subscribers', with the apostrophe coming after the "s."

Here's the trick:

1) Form the plural
2) Add the apostrophe or apostrophe+s, depending on the style you're following.

A note on style: Though there is disagreement on this, the rule we like says put the "s" after the apostrophe if you pronounce it. The Joneses'* cat, as opposed to the Smiths' cat.

Because there is enough passionate disagreement that you can't possibly please all the sticklers out there, the best thing to do is be consistent with whatever method you choose.

* corrected, thanks to Barry L.

No comments: