Clarity: Did the king have more than one scholar, and how many owned the passage? Conflicting road names throw up a possessive puzzle
My sister pointed out the differing road names as we ambled to a restaurant in Victoria one evening: King’s Scholar‘s Passage and King’s Scholars’ Passage.
Always on the look out for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes in public places, I was thrilled. The road name itself was unusual, with two possessives, but here were City of Westminster signs on opposite sides of the road that created a mystery.
Did the passage belong to one scholar, or more?
What was the passage? Did it belong to one scholar, or more than one scholar? What was his, or her, or their relationship with the king? Did one earnest soul scurry along the narrow street, laden with books, or were there dozens of them?
Wow, we had a lot to talk about over dinner.
Thankfully, history can tell us where the apostrophe belongs
Thankfully, history can tell us where the scholars’ apostrophe belongs.
The River Tyburn, one of London’s underground rivers, runs under the paving and brick. You can hear it, if you crouch and listen at a grate. It flows under central London, from its origin in Hampstead, via Buckingham Palace, before emptying into the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge.
More a brook than a river, the ‘passage’ once fed the King’s Scholars’ Pond, which was used for swimming by pupils from Westminster School. The waterway is now the King’s Scholars’ Pond Sewer, or just the KSPS for those who are into sewers, literally and metaphorically.
So, king’s refers to a school, rather than a possessive monarch, and the passage is a waterway.
Most importantly, there was more than one scholar, which means, of course, that the possessive apostrophe belongs after the s.
Phew. And phew…