Sue Kline’s Grammar Hotline

Clear answers to your pressing questions about English usage.
For prompt response, send your own questions to

A selection of questions received recently:

On possessive case for the word witness, do I use Witness’ or Witness’s?
Doris D. Ana, CA

Answer: Witness’s is correct for the singular possessive: the witness’s statement. Note that the plural possessive form is witnesses’: the three witnesses’ statements

Categories: Grammar, Punctuation

What is the proper way to make a word ending in “z” possessive (singular)? For example, the name…Heinz? For example, the name…Heinz? Heinz’s coat or Heinz’ coat?
Megan M., Fort Worth, TX

If a professor has the last name of Cortes and he writes, Professor Cortes’ office hours are…is this the correct use of possessive for a name noun or can the punctuation be both before and after the “s”?
Lynn S., Fort Collins, CO

Answer: In both case, logic rules. Punctuate to match how you would read the phrase orally, and you will come up with Heinz’s ketchup or Cortes’s office hours. Be consistent and you will eliminate questions on this matter – despite the fact that some prefer to omit the apostrophe s.

Example from The Wall Street Journal: Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood:

Categories: Grammar, Punctuation

We are trying to create a form letter. Is it correct to use a colon after “to”?
You do not qualify for assistance due to:
Or should we do something like this.
You do not qualify for the following reason(s):

Jo D., Springfield, MO

Answer: Prefer the second version: The colon, when used to introduce a list, is correctly used after a noun or after a phrase that includes “the following” or “as follows.” Strictly speaking, the colon should not follow a word that causes the phrase to be incomplete: is, are, to, for etc.

Categories: Grammar, Punctuation

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