It's all right (but not alright) to use a trailing apostrophe in the classical genetive

Carrying on from the previous post, the copyedit style guide did resolve two of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago asking whether ancient Greek and Roman names should have 's or only the trailing apostrophe in the possessive. This turned out to be quite controversial. The definitive answer is in the style guide, which says:

ancient classical names ending in "s" are set with a single apostrophe to form the possessive

i.e. the correct possessive form is: Pericles' scroll

There you are; St Martin's Press says it, so it must be true. So now everything's all right, but it's not alright.

My long term readers will be amused to hear Copyeditor meticulously replaced every alright with all right.

I'll have to admit defeat on that front. I promise to write only all right from now on. But I'm going to sob quietly as I do the global replace on books 2 and 3.


Carrie Clevenger said...

No. I won't do it. I won't replace alright with "all right," alright? Heehee.

RWMG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RWMG said...

I suspect that each publisher follows their own rule for genitives of classical names, rather than their being a rule which is universally followed, which should of course be the one I was taught at school.

'All right' and 'alright' are different. 'All right' means everything is correct (she got it all right), while 'alright' can show acquiescence rather than agreement (alright, I suppose so) or can add emphasis (she got it, alright).

Amalia Dillin said...

Aww-- I kind of like the 's myself. Trailing apostrophe's make me feel like I'm forgetting something.

I expect I will probably be stubborn about it.

How did your copyeditor handle can not? (I always write it as two words because I HATE it as one. do you say "maynot" I don't think so!)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

What "RWMG" said! I think that says it all. :-)

Merry Monteleone said...

I like "alright" better, and don't quite get why it's wrong. I mean, it's not like I'm trying to get away with, "ain't" - unless it's dialect and in dialogue to boot :-)

For what it's worth, though, I like the s' so much better than 's for names that end in "s". It sounds better in my head for some reason.

By the way, Gary, I'm loving your posts on edits - so many useful tips :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Heavens to Betsy!

I'm glad the Copyeditor agree with all right, but I'm petrified about the trailing apostrophe. Curse Stephen King and all the other sources who steered me in the wrong direction!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ugh. That should say agreed and not agree.

I need to go home and have some wine. I graded WAY too many essays today!

Gary Corby said...

I agree with you all that alright is all right, and I'm totally with Robert on the difference in meaning.

But alas, the opinions of we humble authors are but ice-creams in the scorching sun of The Chicago Manual Of Style, which tells us "all right" is the only US usage.

The fact that 4 of the people agreeing with Robert are in the US must therefore be a mere aberration.

Actually, the last time this came up, the majority of Americans considered "alright" to be totally wrong. So fair's fair.

Gary Corby said...

I wouldn't let it worry you too much, Stephanie. I can't imagine any acquiring editor caring one way or the other. This is stuff for copyeditors. It's an easy global replace anyway.

Merry Monteleone said...


The vote on "alright" vs. "all right" might have less to do with whether or not we're in the US and more to do with how much British literature we read and enjoy.

Janet Reid said...

I can hear you sobbing from Sydney! Some things really are all right, but alright already isn't all right. Not at all.

Loretta Ross said...

Aw, condolences to Gary on the demise of "alright"! As for the trailing apostrophe, is that *only* on classical genitives ending in s? (And I *did* tell you not to cross Mrs. Lovell! ;))

BTW, thanks for mentioning ice cream! You just reminded me that I have some. (Mint chocolate chip anyone?) :D

Gary Corby said...

A mere 18 replacements of "alright" to "all right" in Magnesia Sanction, Janet. I'm surprised it wasn't 50. You'll have it any moment now.

Gary Corby said...

It' right, Loretta; I'll be emotionally scarred for life, but I'll survive somehow. Some ice cream will help my recovery. Caramel for me please.

Gary Corby said...

You're probably right about the UK vs US familiarity, Merry. Odd that there is just enough divergence to make it obvious.

RWMG said...

Alright then, Janet, as defender of the US status quo, how would you differentiate in writing between "He got them all right", and "He got them alright"? To me, the first would mean "All his answers were correct", while the second would mean "He received everything without mishap". Do you similarly refuse to make a distinction between "all together" and "altogether"?

Gary Corby said...

I think, Robert, the logic works like this for every single literary agent and author on the planet:

The customer is always right. This goes without saying. Or would, if I hadn't said it.

Publishers are the customer.

The publisher follows a widely recognised standard.

The standard says alright is not all right.

Therefore alright is not all right.

And in truth, much as I might have fun whinging, the publisher is my customer too (they buy stuff from me!) so I too ultimately accede to the Orange Nemesis.

I guess the stock answer to your excellent point is that English is full of ambiguities. The real answer is that it's my job not to write myself into such a corner in the first place.

RWMG said...

Of course, Gary. You have to do what your publisher wants, I understand that. But those of us who are not trying to get published are free to express opinions, aren't we? Though since it's your blog, you are equally free to tell us you'd rather we expressed them elsewhere. ;-)

RWMG said...

Oh, and if my comment to Janet comes across as being on the abrasive side, I assure you (and her!) that I meant no disrespect.

Gary Corby said...

I'm sorry Robert! I didn't mean to sound grumpy in that last comment.

Do please express away.

This reminds me a lot of coding standards in software engineering. For any given team of programmers greater than one, it is absolutely impossible to get agreement on the best way to format code. Yet everyone has to conform to a single standard or it's too hard to read the combined effort. So you end up with something that pleases everyone 80% of the time, and everyone has to lump the bits they don't like.

The Academy Francaise controls the French language. English doesn't have the same central control, but the recognised style guides do have enormous influence.

RWMG said...

Yes, style guides are excellent -- when they agree with me!

Paulo Campos said...

My Sophomore Year English teacher hated "alright." He'd leave fits of red-ink over any that he saw on our papers.

The mnemonic device he taught us was "Alright is always All Wrong," which is pretty much all I remember from that class. He pronounced "alright" as if it was someone named Al's name.

Fifteen years later as an English teacher myself a massive debate erupted in one of my classes about its proper use. I couldn't come to a definitive conclusion about the issue and have since stopped correcting "alright," but it will probably always look wrong to me.

Meghan said...

Now I'm just confused.

Gary Corby said...

You're not the only one, Meghan. :-)

Paulo, that's very interesting. It's amazing how much of what we learn at school becomes definitive truth in our brains forever, even if it's only in effect the teacher's opinion. The power of teachers is awesome.

Jude said...

Wow, I didn't know "they" finally settled the all right/alright controversy. Thanks for the heads up!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Judith,

I hope they're treating you well at FinePrint & Nancy Coffey.

If you're really lucky, there might be some spare Vegemite for you in the fridge.