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A reader questions the use of the possessive in such constructions as “doctor’s appointment” and “driver’s license”:

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If I take out my state-granted proof of authority to drive an automobile in Oklahoma, the title on that wallet-sized document is “Driver License,” not “Driver’s License.” I hear a lot of people say that they have a “doctor’s appointment,” when, in fact, they have a “doctor appointment.” It seems to me that the possessive is inappropriate to things such as a “Driver License” or a “doctor appointment,” unless, in the latter case, it is the doctor himself talking about his appointment. What do you think?

I think that where the use of the English possessive is concerned, trying to make immutable rules about it is like trying to herd cats.

The card that permits me to drive in the state of Arkansas until 2017 says “Driver’s License,” but I saw the photo of an Arkansas license posted at the English Stack Exchange that shows “Drivers License.”

Perhaps it was printed before 2007 when apostrophes came to the attention of the Arkansas General Assembly. The body passed a resolution to the effect that the possessive of Arkansas must be written Arkansas’s and not, as the AP Stylebook would have it, Arkansas’. Maybe that’s when someone decided that while they were codifying apostrophes, “Drivers License” should be “Driver’s License.”

Since my opinion is being sought, I’ll say that I think it would make more sense to call it a “driving license” to match “hunting license” and “fishing license.” As that’s not going to happen in the United States, I’ll vote for “driver’s license.” According to the Ngram Viewer, I’m with the majority: “driver’s license” and “doctor’s appointment” outstrip “driver license” and “doctor appointment” by a mile.

Rules are useful, but usage rules.

What’s on your driver’s license?

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