Driver License vs. Driver’s License

By Maeve Maddox

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

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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36 Responses to “Driver License vs. Driver’s License”

  • Doug

    I have no problem with driver’s license. If Sue is driving a car, it’s Susan’s car – the car of Susan. If while she is driving she has a license in her purse, it’s the driver’s license – the license of the driver. If she’s technically renting or just using the car, I can still ascribe it to her with a possessive form. I agree that driving license – parallel with hunting or fishing – is even better (a license to do the verb: drive, hunt or fish). Best yet would be a fisherman’s license or hunter’s license (licenses of the actors in each case), but that’s really getting awkward.

  • Mary

    Oregon: Driver License
    I was recently informed at my local DMV that the possessive (‘s) is not appropriate for a driver license because the card does not technically belong to the driver. The state requires the driver to carry it but it can be taken away for infractions (and it is the state’s property to take). Perhaps ‘Driving License’ is a more appropriate title- it would reduce the confusion over the possessive-or-not issue.

  • Don

    Hi,

    In a way, we’re missing the boat by discussing the usage aspect of this question. Regardless that I feel driver’s license is correct, most states and provinces have moved to the term driver license, clumsy as it is, for legal reasons.

    The apostrophe in driver’s license implies that the physical document is the property of the driver (separate from the actual authority to drive). Most DMV’s wish to assert that the document belongs to them, so they can recall it at any time.

    The apostrophe hinders them in their legal proceedings with people who don’t wish to give up their licenses, because, as I said, it implies that the driver, not the DMV, owns the license.

    So, clumsy or not, they’ve simply decided to spell it the way that suits their interests.

  • Cyndi Koehler

    My TN Driver’s License reads: DRIVER LICENSE

  • Donna

    My biggest beef about usage regarding a license to drive revolves around the Southern American usage of “license” as a plural noun:

    “You got your license? Show them to me!”

    “They’re checking ids at the club? I didn’t bring them with me.”

  • Linda Barr

    I have a vision impairment which effects my depth perception, and my narrator speaks UK English. My ancestors were French, and my French grandmother lived with my family from the time I was twelve years old, until I left home at nineteen years old.

    She taught me French, much of which I have forgotten. The French don’t have to be different. They are different. I dream of the day that I can live in France.

    Now to the question. Since I receive a plastic card from the state granting me permission to drive a vehicle; technically I possess permission to drive, and I therefore carry a Licence to drive.

    Calling this piece of plastic a driving Licence is as inappropriate as calling the permit to hunt (a hunting Licence) in effect, it sounds as though, the Licence is doing the hunting, doing the driving, or reading the story.
    But seeing as how, a large percentage of American English is slang or borrowed and mispronounced French. The permit and the driver does therefore possess the card; it literally becomes the Driver’s licence.

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