The Coles's dinner party

His name is Mr. Cole. (It is not Mr. Coles.)


  1. I went to Mr. Cole’s house.
  2. The Coles (Mr. and Mrs. Cole) visited us.
  3. We attended the Coles’ dinner party.

I was recently shocked (shocked!) when I was told that the Brits have no problem with “We attended the Coles’s dinner party.” (Remember: his surname is Cole, not Coles.)

And I was shocked beyond belief when an American teacher said that “many” Americans would also write “the Coles’s dinner party.”

I need your help in recovering my sanity. I would appreciate all opinions.


Hello, dear James M!

I'm not going to answer your query, I would just like to say that I am glad to 'see' YOU again on the Forum :-)

Don’t be too shocked! The house belongs to the Coles and THEY are holding the dinner party, not just one Cole. You could of course refer to the Cole household.

Thank you, Foreigner. Hope that everything is going well with you.

Thank you, Alan.

I have done some googling, and I have discovered that many people (mostly Brits?) write “The Coles’s dinner party,” and many people (mostly American?) write “The Coles’ dinner party.”

I, of course, am in no position to comment on British English. But I am 100% confident (not 99.99%) that almost no American would write “The Coles’s dinner party.” And if they did, a teacher would mark them down. (A million apologies for using “they” and “them” instead of the traditional “he” and “him,” but I realize that this is 2014, so I guess that I have to surrender.)

It should be “the Coles’ dinner party” because it is the dinner party of the Coles.

Furthermore, if the surname were Coles (instead of the the surname “Cole”), then the spelling should be “The Coleses’ dinner party.” That is, “The dinner party of the Coleses.”

At another grammar helpline, a British moderator simply said that both spellings are correct. She then closed the thread to further discussion.

I am glad that english-test. net encourages serious debates.


Welcome back, James. I don’t think that usage is acceptable everywhere. We still frown upon it for reasons I have adduced in one of my posts earlier.

It should. Let’s hope that native speakers will display a sense of tolerance and listen to the meaningful but discordant views expressed by non native users.

I would also say either spelling is okay. We avoid the apostrophe after ‘s’ only when it makes a hissing sound as in 'Jesus’s and 'Moses’s.

Thank you, Anglophile, very much for your helpful comments.

Well, James, it is my pleasure to be conversing with you after a not-too-long spell.

Now I am deliberately bringing in some logical argument here, just to amuse you. The ‘bone’ is this (quoted from your post): But I am 100% confident (not 99.99%) that almost no American …

What do you say?

Hello, Anglophile:

I said “almost” no American because an American teacher at another helpline (the one that closed the thread and would permit no further discussion) claimed that “many” Americans would write “I attended the Coles’s dinner party.”

I simply cannot understand why anyone would write “Coles’s dinner party.”

Yet I have found many examples on the Web, presumably from British speakers.

In my opinion, it is absolutely unbelievable.

The man’s surname is COLE.
So the man and wife are the ColeS.
I attended the dinner party of the ColeS. / I attended the Coles’ dinner party.

Why in the world would anyone write “Coles’s”? That is pronounced “Coleses.” His surname is not “ColeS.” It is “Cole.” Therefore, the plural is simply “the ColeS.” And the possessive, then, is:

the Coles’.

By the way, some people try to compare it to “James’ / James’s house.”

There is no comparison.

“James” is singular. So we can, indeed, write “James’ house” or “James’s house.” In either case, we should pronounce it as “Jameses house.”

Thank you and I hope so :slight_smile:

Let’s suppose that the couple are Mr John and Mrs John, and the Johns have hosted a special dinner at their house.

Now, ‘at their house’ means > at the house of the Johns > at the Johns’ house > (or) at the Johns’s house. In other words, we take the house as belonging to both of them together; neither to Mr John nor to Mrs John, individually.

So, either the Johns’ or the Johns’s should be acceptable in my view. Further, the article ‘the’ would suggest that it is not a single person, but the couple themselves.

Don’t I sound sensible, James?

Thank you very much, Anglophile.

  1. Most people agree with you that both forms are “correct.”

  2. Your reasoning sounds very “sensible,” indeed.

a. You have given me some delicious food for thought.


I am sure, however, that 99% of Americans would write only “We attended the Johns’ dinner party.”

You’re welcome, James. I thank you, too.