Wee Grammatical Conundrum…

I’m hoping some grammar ace can help me out with this wee dilemma, as it’s been whizzling around futilely in the piggly brain for a couple of years now, and–sadly–I’m no closer to resolving it than I was when I began.

When I refer in writing to scrummy lunches I’ve consumed, which contained the cheese of the goat, should I be writing about “goat’s cheese” or should it be “goats’ cheese”?

All suggestions gratefully received, but please show your workings *g*

33 Responses to Wee Grammatical Conundrum…

  1. John Hesp says:

    I see Channel 4 is going with goat’s cheese whilst the BBC is going with goats’ cheese:


    I would use goat’s because if it’s wrong people are less likely to notice 🙂


  2. I am not an expert, but I think you’ll find the following rule applicable:
    When the possessor (eg children) is plural, but does not end in an “s”, the apostrophe precedes the “s”.
    But when the possessor is a regular plural (as in the goats from whose milk the cheese is made – very unlikely to be just one goat) the apostrophe follows the “s”.
    But you always knew the BBC would be correct, didn’t you? And maybe Channel 4’s budget restricts them to preparing their cheese from the milk of a single goat, in which case they may also be correct…ha.
    [See P41 of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, BTW.]

    • Bruce Wood says:

      Unfortunately the rule quoted above about possessive genitive a is not relevant as this is a case of attribution not possession. There is no particular goat or group of goats that own the cheese. So the answer is “goat’s”, and the BBC is (and nowadays often is) wrong.

  3. John Hesp says:

    I like your faith in the BBC Martin. I see here:


    that they’ve used cow’s milk and cows’ milk.

    Congratulations on your award for your TGOC route. I’ve been studying your route carefully in the hope of getting more out of the Challenge in future. In many ways your route is similar to my last years route (see link above), but I think it’s the detail and number of peaks climbed that makes your’s so good. Well done.


  4. Sal says:

    Of course it’s produced from the milk from more than 1 goat, so you could argue for goats’ cheese. However, the goat doesn’t really own it, you do, so it’s really your cheese. So I’d go for the adjectival use ‘goat cheese’.

    But then I prefer sheep’s cheese anyway 🙂

  5. Graeme Andrews says:

    Let me quote from ‘The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language’ by David Crystal:
    “..printers and grammarians tried to lay down rules saying when the apostrophe should be used. Unfortunately…the rules which they devised were arbitrary and incomplete, and it proved impossible to establish a totally logical set of principles.” (p. 203).

    So relax, there is no right answer.

  6. Alan Rayner says:

    It’s all too deep. Pity Samuel Johnson’s not around. He would have resolved it.

  7. Thanks, John, your comments are appreciated. It was most unexpected. As regards the goats cheese, I think I agree with Alan. I prefer to eat it rather than spell it. Anyone for cheese and wine?

  8. alan.sloman says:

    “Anyone for cheese and wine?”

    I’m in!
    Things people have said about goats:
    “I’ll get my goat” (Possibly mis-heard?)

  9. BG! says:

    PW, if it’s any consolation I’ve yet to figure out whether today is Father’s Day or Fathers’ Day. There are plenty of Fathers out there, but my girls only have the one.

  10. Fathers’ Day, I suspect, as it is meant to be for all fathers, not just the BG!
    Does it really matter, though?

  11. BG! says:

    Well yes, it does matter. Kids learn from these things, and if they’re taught to be wrong, how can we expect them to be right when they grow up? If the correct usage is “Fathers'” then Hallmark Cards and Hanson White Cards are both guilty of Crimes Against Punctuation, as both of my cards have the other usage printed on them. Given the opportunity, my “Inner Stickler” would have the perpetrators force-fed vast amounts of cheese (of any variety) and then put up against a wall and shot (in a metaphorical sense, of course).

  12. Hmmm, I can’t disagree with you Steph.
    According to the ‘grammar’ resource that follows, I was wrong concerning Father’s Day. It’s all to do with the possessive form, and the possessor (Father) is considered to be singular. Here’s what I found:

    “A number of Holidays have possessive forms, and are peculiarly inconsistent. “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day” are easy enough, one parent at a time, and “Parents’ Day” is nicely pluralised, as is “Presidents’ Day” which celebrates the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln. “All Souls’ Day (Halloween),” of course, takes a plural possessive. “Veterans Day” is plural but not possessive, for historical reasons shrouded in mystery. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has no possessive. “New Year’s Day,” “St. Valentine’s Day,” St. Patrick’s Day,” and “April Fool’s Day” all have their singular possessive form, and so, while we’re at it, does “Season’s Greetings.” Note that “Daylight Saving Time” is neither possessive nor plural. ”

    It’s an American resource containing its own spelling mistakes (I’ve corrected some of them) so it may be ‘suspect’. They seem to be saying that ‘Father’s Day’ is how it is, as compared with say ‘Veterans Day’, and that the nomenclature is inconsistent.

    So…’Father’s Day’ it may be – even if the strict grammatical accuracy of the ‘event’ is a matter for debate!

  13. Here’s another theory:

    “Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are creations of Anne Jarvis who chose to make the noun form singular so that each mother or father would be specially honoured.”

    So that’s official – it’s Father’s Day, with the reasoning given above. I can now understand the logic of that. Hoorah!

  14. Sorry, that should read ‘Anna Jarvis’….

    “Anna Jarvis was born in the tiny town of Webster, West Virginia. She was the daughter of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis.
    On May 12, 1907, two years after her mother’s death, she held a memorial to her mother and thereafter embarked upon a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday. She succeeded in making this nationally recognized in 1914. The International Mother’s Day Shrine was established in Grafton to commemorate her accomplishment.
    By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured by the commercialisation of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against what the holiday had become. Both died in poverty. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. As she said:
    ‘A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
    —Anna Jarvis.’

    Hey Ho

  15. BG! says:

    Good detective-work, Martin. Looks like Hallmark Cards and Hanson White Cards will have to be pardoned.

    So, back to the cheese issue… has it been resolved?

  16. John Hesp says:

    That’s what I love about this blog – it’s not just backpacking – it leads into so many unlikely corners of knowledge.

    To pick up Martin’s comment “does it matter?” In any of the above discussion has there been any doubt about the meaning of Father’s Day or Fathers’ Day, goat’s Cheese or goats’ cheese? There might be rules about the use of apostrophes, but the English language is an organic evolving thing and doesn’t live by these rules. The correct use of apostrophes is to clarify the meaning, but if increasingly nobody understands how to use them (and let’s face it, we struggled) then their use is doomed.


    (Who is also writing up his TGOC account and taking a defensive position re apostrophes [and typos and grammar] from the start.)

  17. You really are a glutton for punishment!

    1) Even though the cheese no longer “belongs” to the goat it is still cheese of goat and requires a possessive apostrophe…?

    2) Unless the cheese is made from the milk of one particular goat, a plural is surely required….?

    Therefore please only buy cheese labelled as “Goats’ Cheese”.

    Pass the wine, please, Alan. You should of done that earlier. Ha!

    [So I’m sticking for now with my earlier reasoning!]

  18. BG! says:

    “… should of …”???

    I’ve given up trying to defend the “unlikely corner of knowledge” that is home to the proper use of the verb “to have”. I’m off to tear out the few hairs that still grow from my battle-scarred carcass.

    Of a nice day!

  19. peewiglet says:

    Ooh! Apologies for not getting back sooner. Things have been hectic on the domestic front.

    Many thanks to all for joining in 🙂 See–it really *is* an interesting question *g*

    What always confuses me about where to put the apostrophe (and I’m sure there should be one somewhere) is that I’m never sure whether the expression is meant to refer to the cheese produced from the milk of one goat or from that of a collective of wee goats. Instinct generally leads me towards “goats’ cheese”, but each time I write it I find myself wondering whether I’m doing some poor individualist goat down.

    It’s good to see I’m not the only one capable of being bogged down in abstruse grammatical wrinkles like this 🙂

  20. Ah, Steph, I see my sense of humour got the better of you! Keep your ‘air on, mate!

  21. BG! says:

    Worry not, Martin, the beard’s still intact!

    I figured that it was a wind-up based on my widely-appreciated previous tendency to rise to such a well-cast muddler. Like I said, I’ve given up – the rest of the world doesn’t give a flying fcuk, so why should I bother?

    I do reserve the right to a little indignation at the mis-spelling of my name, though.



  22. Sacha says:

    Comparing search results of various dictionaries and online translators, it would seem anything goes when it comes to a combination of goats and cheese, but most are in agreement when it comes to milk: goat’s milk. (E.g.”Any of various cheeses made from goat’s milk”, Cambridge; “French cheese made with goat’s milk”, Oxford)
    “Goat’s milk cheese” anyone?
    Whatever you choose, it seems you can’t go wrong, just be consistent.

    I like to avoid the question completely by using “goat cheese”: goat simply designates what animal produced the milk. I don’t really care how many goats it takes to make a cheese. 😀

  23. Des says:

    Perche il pollo attraversare la strada?

  24. Oops. Sorry Stef, that was just down to ignorance.
    Please accept my apologies.
    PS I’m closing my contribution here. I’ve nothing to add. I can’t stomach goat’s milk. Thank you PW for hosting this little discussion. I shall peruse further contributions with my hands behind my back.

  25. BG! says:

    No problems, Martin. I’ve had nearly 50 years of having to correct people on that score.

    Anyway, you can’t leave now, we’re just getting started 🙂

    FWIW, I dislike cheese in any form and from any animal(s). The dislike extends to yoghurt and to mushrooms. It’s true to say that I’m “uncultured”.

  26. Mike Knipe says:

    The catering indu’stry has it’s own rule’s for the placement of yer apo’strophe. Any word having an “‘s” should have an apo’strophe before the “s” – e.g. Ice’s, Potato’s, Chip’s.
    A’s we’re talking chee’se here, the catering rule’s apply.

    I have taken the liberty of applying the catering apo’strophe throught thi’s reply.

    Goat’s are notoriou’sly laid back about the i’s’sue.

  27. Paul says:


    My English is(but i’m hoping for a “was”) awful. I found the above link, cross linked from the OU site which I have found useful.


    CSE grade 3 English, grade 5 in english Lit :-O

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