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What is the correct way to enclose within double quotes a word that ends with a possessive apostrophe?

For example:

The "professionals'" confidence was badly shaken by the market crash.

I used quotes around professionals' to emphasize that they are merely self-proclaimed "professionals" as opposed to real professionals. Did I use double quotes correctly? Should it be "professionals'", "professionals"', or "professional"s'?

  • There is no one right way to present this; such things are a matter of style. Adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your audience and tastes and be consistent in its application. – choster May 10 at 5:56
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The original sentence is correct, but I agree that it can look ugly.

There is at least three possible solutions to this:

  1. Don't use the posessive. You could instead say:

The confidence of the "professionals" was badly shaken by the market crash.

  1. Use the more specialized punctuation marks ', , and to help distinguish them to readers.

  2. As you are using the quotation marks to add sarcasm rather than actually quote somebody, you could use an entirely different approach, for example:

The confidence of the so-called-professionals was badly shaken by the market crash.

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  • 3
    So, in Word, there is a very tiny space between a possessive apostrophe and the double quotation marks (all curly or smart type), which is intended to distinguish them. Using two different kinds (smart and straight) may not be wise for something formal, where consistency is required. But I like your other suggestion about rephrasing. – AIQ May 9 at 9:30
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Short of rephrasing the sentence (which is possible), most style guides address this by suggesting putting a space between the apostrophe and quotation mark in order to make the presentation clearer to readers.

Before:

The "professionals'" confidence was badly shaken by the market crash.

After:

The "professionals' " confidence was badly shaken by the market crash.

With access to typesetting tools, you can also use what's called a thin space, which is not as wide as a regular full-sized space. This retains the separation between the apostrophe and quotation mark without it looking like there's to much of a gap. But I can't demonstrate that, because this site seems to treat the thin space character as just a regular space.


From The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.11 [paywall]:

When single quotation marks are nested within double quotation marks, and two of the marks appear next to each other, a space between the two marks, though not strictly required, aids legibility. For print publications, typesetters may place a thin space or a hair space between the two marks (as in the print edition of this manual). In electronic environments (including manuscripts submitted for publication), a nonbreaking space can be used (as in the online edition of this manual); such a space will prevent the second mark from becoming stranded at the beginning of a new line.

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