Why did I find this newspaper headline (right), from last Wednesday’s Metro, awkward?
As we all know, the English spelling apostrophe-s can represent not only the possessive ending but also the contracted form of is or has.
It is pronounced just like the regular plural ending.
• After a voiceless non-sibilant consonant it is pronounced voiceless, s:
the cat’s whiskers
the cat’s waiting to go out
the cat’s just been sick again
• After a voiced non-sibilant consonant or a vowel, it is pronounced voiced, z
dressed up like a dog’s dinner
the dog’s jumping up and down
the dog’s run off somewhere
• And after a sibilant (= one of s z ʃ ʒ tʃ dʒ) it is pronounced as a separate syllable, ɪz (or for some people əz):
straight from the horse’s mouth
…er, but what about the contracted forms after a sibilant?
?%the horse’s grazing happily in the paddock
?%the horse’s bolted
I don’t think I’m the only one who finds the last two a little awkward. Why? Because they don’t imply any difference in pronunciation from horse is, horse has. There’s no separate contracted form in pronunciation, so we don’t want one in spelling.
Those of us with a robust weak ɪ — ə distinction will continue to use ɪz as the uncontracted weak form of is but əz as the uncontracted weak form of has. This distinction remains even if, questionably, we spell both as postsibilant ’s. That’s another reason the spelling ’s is not very satisfactory here.
My cash is mine, fine. My cash’s mine, not so sure.