Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Not Much Doing in Arkansas

ArkansasThe Arkansas state legislature had a light day back in February and managed to clear the Arkansas Apostrophe Act, a nonbinding resolution that endorses the spelling of the possessive of Arkansas as Arkansas’s rather than Arkansas’. The latter spelling, usually restricted to plural possessives like ‘the legislators’ goofing off’ or ‘the reporters’ laughter’, was legally enacted as the official spelling by a previous apostrophe act on a slow day back in 1881.

At issue was the ‘silent’ S in the pronunciation of Arkansas, pronounced [ahr-kên-saw]. This means that the correct pronunciation of the possessive of this state’s name is [ahr-kên-sawz] with only one S, pronounced [z]. (This is why Kansas’s legislature is not forced to struggle with the same issue.) The original law, then, would make as much sense as the current one if there were a consistent correlation between the way we speak and the way we spell.

The general rule is that the possessive of words that end on S is the same as that of any other word, -‘s. That is the way these words are pronounced—more or less. There are exceptions. The possessive of ‘classical names’ omits the final -s, as in Jesus’, Socrates’, Plautus’. Of course, the line between ‘classical’ and ‘nonclassical’ names is a bit mushy.

So, which Arkansas legislature is correct, that of 1881 or that of 2007? Well, the silent S is silent in both the possessive and nonpossessive forms and so should be ignored. The important thing to remember, though, is that how words are spelled in English, thank heavens, is not Arkansas’s decision.

2 Responses to “Not Much Doing in Arkansas”

  1. E J Templin Says:

    Forgive me for catching this so many days later, but does the singular possessive apostrophy also apply to “Illinois”? I almost said plural possessive, but the old brain caught up and remembered that the plural of “Illinois” is “Illini”, so that solved that problem. But why does “Illini” look so weird? Thanks!

  2. rbeard Says:

    The possessive singular of Illinois is now Illinois’s, like Kansas’s and Arkansas’s.

    “Illini” looks weird because it is weird; it makes not sense. The French plural of “Illinois” would be “Illinoises”. But Illini refers to people from Illinois, doesn’t it. It presume the existence of a singular “Illinus” which, so far as I know, isn’t.


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