The Buzz About Last Names

Making the last name of the family in my novel, The Tedescos, plural was quite easy. I simply added an S to their name when speaking or writing about the entire clan. And then I assigned one character the last name Roberts and decided to write about his family as well. Time to apply “The Joneses Rule.”

Of course this isn’t the official title of the grammar rule; it’s just my way of remembering that when I make a last name ending in S plural, I add –es. The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage as well as many grammar websites agree with this practice.

Then there is the annoying little pronunciation rule that pops up every now and then. If a last name ending in S sounds like a Z, as in Jones, one shouldn’t add the –es. A trick to determining this is to place your hand on your throat, say the name aloud, and see if you can feel your throat buzzing. Really? We’re supposed to trust proper grammar to the buzzing in our throats? This is made doubly ridiculous because sites that uphold this rule still say that Jones should be Joneses when making the name plural.

Here’s my advice: play it safe by trashing the buzzing rule, be consistent in your writing, and add –es to any last name ending in S. Regional dialects pronounce names differently, and it’s too difficult to pin down whether a name is ending in an S sound or a Z sound.

None For You!

none-for-youIn an effort to stave off the dumbing down of the English language, today’s The Weight of Words focuses on the versatile word none.

None can have a plural sense as in not any as well as a singular sense, not a single one. When followed by of, you need to assess the object of the preposition (the noun in the of phrase). If the object of the preposition is singular, then a singular verb is in order. If the object of the preposition is plural, one has some flexibility with verb choice. Mostly, but not always, you will use the plural verb.

For example:

None of the cake was eaten. (Cake is singular, so use a singular verb.)

None of the puppies were sleeping. (Puppies is plural, so use a plural verb. However, with English, that ever-fickle mistress, when none denotes not a single one, it is also correct to say, “None of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Confused yet?

When writing your sentence, remember there is an implied noun that answers the question, “None of what?” Again, if that noun is singular, none requires a singular verb. If that noun is plural, it is up to you as the writer and the sense you are trying to convey in your sentence that determines whether or not none requires a singular verb or a plural verb.

For example:

None was eaten. (None of the cake was eaten.)

None were sleeping. (None of the puppies were sleeping. But you as the writer may prefer was as in, “Not a single one of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Somewhere along the way, the myth that none is solely singular appeared. Not only is this incorrect based on what I presented above, but it’s up to you, dear writer, to decide if your context is singular or plural. Now you have the information required to defend your choice.

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