When we refer to the degrees BA or MA in English, we use an s at the end – calling them a Bachelors or Masters. This may sound strange as it is one degree, not a plural, so why do we say it? Actually it’s not a plural at all, it is a possessive – and more accurately should be written as Bachelor’s or Master’s. Here’s why:
What Bachelors and Masters mean for degrees
A student can become a Bachelor or Master of Arts or Sciences (a BA, BS, MA or MS – with variations). BA/BS and MA/MS level degrees demonstrate a level of achievement which gives the degree earner a title. Just as a doctorate (PhD) makes the student a Doctor, the BA makes the student a Bachelor of Arts. The MA makes the student a Master of Arts. The degree, therefore, belongs to the Bachelor or Masters – making it, in full form, a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree.
As with many things in English, we take a short cut when we describe degrees. When we say someone has a Bachelors or Masters, we are using a shortened version of the full description, a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree. Essentially, this is what is typically said, but what it really means:
- I have a Bachelors in History.
- I have a Bachelor’s degree in History.
Bachelors or Masters on its own does not give you the full noun – it is, rather, a possessive description that should be followed by degree. However, long term use has made it be understood as a noun on its own, so we can say Bachelors and be understood to mean Bachelor’s degree – the first word of a compound noun has come to stand in for the whole compound.
This just leaves one problem – if we are using a shortened form of Bachelor’s degree, the first word on its own, Bachelor’s, should have an apostrophe. Very often, particularly in British English, an apostrophe is not used. Again, this is a result of popular use – grammatically an apostrophe is correct, but it has simply been neglected over long term practical use. So you will find examples of both styles (and, similarly, much as a matter of style, capitalisation – bachelors or Bachelors). You’ll no doubt find arguments insisting you must use an apostrophe – the truth is, people write the degree names in both manners, so it is unfair to say either is incorrect. However, you would be incorrect to say you have a bachelor instead of a bachelors, referring to a degree – as that would refer to the person and not the qualification!