April 6, 2011

What’s the plural of Jones?

I suggested last year that a couple with a last name ending in “s,” call them Mr. and Mrs. Jones, print wedding souvenirs with “The Joneses.” A drunken, soon-to-be Mrs. Jones reportedly yelled “What the hell is Jonziz?”

The plural of Jones is obviously not Jones or Jones’, it’s Joneses. It’s analogous to “lenses” and “buses.” Error in writing and especially error in pronunciation are common--it seems to me that many or even the majority of Americans say “Jones” for the plural; saying /Jonziz/ isn’t entirely natural or comfortable.

So, what are the possessive forms of Jones and Joneses? All the English style guides insist that singular possessives are formed with -’s and plurals with only -’, so the possessive of Jones (singular) is Jones’s and the possessive of Joneses is Joneses’.

Fair enough. The Chicago Manual of Style adds another wrinkle: What to do if that final “s” of the base name is unpronounced, like in the French Louis or Charles (pronounced /looey/ and /sharl/)? For a singular Louis or Charles, you make the possessive with the apostrophe-s, "-'s." For the plural, however, you don't add anything, because adding an "-es" would lead mispronunciation. That is, "Charlezes" is just wrong because you'd prounounce it /sharlziz/, when the plural is merely /sharlz/. Chicago would have you write that "eighteen Louis" or "ten Charles" were kings (pronounced /looeyz/ and /sharlz/); the possessive is formed with -’, as under the above, usual rule for plurals, and the pronunciation presumably follows the Joneses' = /jonziz/ rule.

So you get the odd parallel paradigms, used in proper English writing and speaking, for English "Charles" and French "Charles":
When you write about:    American /charlz/    French /sharl/
sing.Charles drinks Bud /charlz/Charles drinks wine /sharl/
sing. poss.Charles's hot dog /charlziz/Charles's brie /sharlz/
pl.those Charleses go to Kmart /charlziz/   those Charles go on strike /sharlz/
pl. poss.those Charleses' SUVs /charlziz/those Charles' Fiats /sharlziz/


And another foreign wrinkle on pluralizing and possessive-izing foreign names: Chicago would also pluralize a -z name like Velazquez as “Velazquez” (with possessive “Velazquez’”), which accords with the judgment of various Spanish grammars.1 I suppose this is because Spanish-speakers pronounce -ez as /ayss/, which sounds just like their plural. I would have no problem writing plural “Velazquezes” (with possessive “Velazquezes’”) in English, and perhaps I will if it ever comes up. My approach would also make it easier to refer to multiple of the master’s paintings, which you’re each metonymically calling a Velazquez.

The plural of a name ending in "y," like Perry, is "Perrys" not "Perries."

1. Batchelor, A Reference Grammar of Spanish (2010); Real Academia Española y Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, Nueva Gramática (2009).


  1. This was a really helpful post!

    I was looking for exactly that: how to pluralize Louis. Louises sounds awkward, though it would generally be the way to do it.

    What the Chicago Manual of Style has to say is interesting, though I am certain if my readers read "surrounded by Louis" they would assume I mean ONE Louis, not multiple men named Louis.

    I think what I'll do (now that I know what the rules are and what the style guides suggest) is just write: Louis-es. It is not technically correct, but it will be understood. And the purpose of language is to communicate, the goal to be clear and concise.

    So Louis-es it is for me :)

    1. But wouldn't you agree that you're merely propagating an issue of misunderstanding rather than using proper forms of pluralization, and thereby: A)missing an opportunity for your reader(s) to learn proper usage; or B) assuming your readers know less than you do with regards to pluralization rules?

    2. Too bad it's totally wrong...

      Plural for Charles is Charles' or Charleses (uncomfortable pron.), and possessive for Charles is Charles's. Singular is Charles. I don't know what book this guy read from, but anything Louis's Law wouldn't be Louis' Law.