What does a Word Nerd do at a holiday party, besides drink fabulous sangria and discuss last minute wrapping exploits? She debates the proper use of apostrophes in Christmas cards and discusses the best way to say ‘the soccer ball belonging to Lars”. Is it Lars’s or Lars’?
Plurals and possessives are confusing, and apostrophes can cause mayhem. For example, my iPhone annoys me when auto-correct insists on adding ‘s to days of the week when I just want to indicate plural. When I type, “We will practice on Wednesdays”, iPhone always pops up “Wednesday’s”. 🙁
For my sanity and yours, here’s a quick review of the rules for plurals, possessives, and plural possessives. We are gonna put those apostrophes in their place!
The ‘ (apostrophe) does many cool things. It shows when things are left out. For example:
Could not -> couldn’t [o is omitted]
You are -> you’re [a is omitted]
Word nerd note: You’re is my pet peeve. “Your the best” is not grammatically correct. If you mean to say “You are the best”, you need a contraction, and an apostrophe: “You’re the best”. Your shows possession, like, “Give me your number.”
- Casual uses of words
How you doin’?
C’mon, let’s go.
- Date contractions
We went to Yosemite in ‘16.
I graduated from high school in ‘89.
Word Nerd Note: I’ve seen Instagram profiles that say, “ Class of 19’ ” or something similar. Since the digits are missing from the front of the date, (the author is dropping 20), the correct way is “Class of ‘19.”
Apostrophes also show possession, or that something belongs to someone.
- For one noun, add ‘s
The player’s helmet
- For plural nouns that end in s, just add an apostrophe
The students’ papers
The Tomiaks’ house
- For plural nouns that don’t end in s, add apostrophe s
The men’s section
The people’s vote
The children’s clothes
- For personal pronouns, just add s
That dress is hers. [not her’s]
That cookie is yours [not your’s]
Word Nerd Note: the it’s vs. its exception
It’s is a contraction for it is. It’s a shame she can’t make it.
Its shows possession. The dog lost its ball.
- For a joint possession, make only the last noun possessive with an apostrophe; for separate possession, make each noun possessive.
My mother and father’s farm [both own the farm]
Bill and Julia’s kids [they are both parents of the kids]
My aunt’s and grandma’s rings [there are two rings, one belonging to my aunt, one to my grandma]
- Sibilants (words that end in s, ce, x, z)
Sometimes, as in the case with Lars’s soccer ball, it’s hard to know how to show possession if a word ends in s or another soft sound. Usually, you can follow the rules for any other word. So, for singular possession, add ‘s; for plural, add s/es and an apostrophe.
Ms. Jones’s house; the waitress’s apron [singular]
the Joneses’ house; the waitresses’ aprons [plural]
Sometimes, adding too many s’s sounds funny. If it does, you can probably omit the extra s, although ‘s is the correct form.
Dickens’s stories vs. Dickens’ stories
Ms Williams’s class vs. Ms. Williams’ class
Sometimes people use possessive form when it’s not needed. A good example is Farmers Market. The market doesn’t necessarily belong to the farmers; they simply sell their goods in it. So, if it’s a descriptive term, no possession, or apostrophe, is needed.
The girls soccer team (describing the team- it’s made up of girls)
Homeowners insurance (insurance for homeowners)
When in doubt, consult a manual, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Manual, and keep the formatting consistent in your writing.
When you want to show a noun that’s plural, simply add s, es, or ies, as the word format dictates. No apostrophes are needed.
Baby -> babies
Jersey -> jerseys
Apple -> apples
The Sum Up
This is a lot of information. Here are the highlights:
To show possession with singular nouns, add ‘s, even if the word ends in s or another soft sound, like Lars or actress
To show possession with plural nouns, add ‘ after the last s.
Back to those Christmas cards I mentioned at the beginning. Our cards said, “Happy Holidays from the Tomiaks”, because it’s plural form, not possessive. No apostrophe needed.
Do you have any questions regarding plurals, possessives, or plural possessives? I’ll do my best to answer them. You can also consult Grammar Girl or a good grammar book, like Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman, which were my sources for this post.
Word Nerd Workout
Choose the correct way to use an apostrophe:
- I think that is Hollis’s/Hollises’/Hollis’ soccer ball.
- Don’t forget to bring the bag of jersey’s/jerseys/jersies.
- With love, from the Joneses/ Jones’s / Jones’
Thanks for getting nerdy with me!