How to Use Those Tricky Apostrophes

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

The ‘ (apostrophe) does many cool things. It shows when things are left out.  For example:

  • Contractions

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
Alex’s book
Fido’s bowl

  • 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.

Joint possession:
My mother and father’s farm [both own the farm]
Bill and Julia’s kids [they are both parents of the kids]

Separate possession:
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.

Footnote: Plurals

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:

  1. I think that is  Hollis’s/Hollises’/Hollis’ soccer ball.
  2. Don’t forget to bring the bag of jersey’s/jerseys/jersies.
  3. With love, from the Joneses/ Jones’s / Jones’

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

What Does Intransigent Mean?

Would you like to read a charming story about a cranky old man who has a heart that’s too big? Let me recommend A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. [My friends who listened to the audio book say you pronounce it “oo-va”). A Man Called Ove features a Swedish curmudgeon, a vivacious pregnant Iranian, and many sweet lines that will make you smile. It also has some great vocabulary.

If you like learning new words, hop over to Kathy’s blog for Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme where bloggers explore the meanings of new and interesting words.

This word struck me in the closing chapters of the novel.

I don’t have a car! Because I think it’s unnecessary and I want to use more environmentally friendly modes of transportation!” says the sales assistant in a tone of voice pitched somewhere between intransigent anger and the fetal position.

Intransigent: \in·tran·si·gent\adjective from Latin in + transigere- to come to an agreement;

  • characterized by refusal to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude; synonyms = adamant, hardheaded

It’s funny that the author, or rather, the translator, chose this word; it’s a perfect adjective for Ove himself. He’s stubborn, unyielding, and has an irrational love for Saabs. It strikes me, as we approach the presidential inauguration, that intransigent would be an apt descriptor for President-elect Trump.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of an intransigent character from books, movies, or real life?  

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!






Who I Am: Dreams for the Future

I love January like I love the smell of a freshly mopped floor. It’s a clean page on the calendar, an opportunity to restart and refocus. I like to think I’m an “intentional” person. That means I listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast and try to approach my days with a “Begin with the end in mind” mentality. But sometimes life, and the laundry and swim meets that come with it, derails my intentions. January always assures me that I can try again.

For the past year, I’ve been responding to monthly prompts for the Who I Am Project led by Dana and Bev. I received the final prompt, “Dreams Fulfilled and Wishes for the Future”, at the beginning of December, but it got buried under wrapping paper and cookie sheets. Now that the gifts have been delivered and the baked goodies consumed, I can think about what I’ve done, and what I’ve got left to do.

I won’t lie, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’m freaking out a bit about aging. My hands look like my mom’s, and I’ve succumbed to buying expensive face cream to minimize wrinkles. I worry I’m too old to get published and I’ll never see my books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or do school visits to encourage young readers and writers. I’m entertaining the idea of running a half marathon, but I worry my older body is more prone to injury. I’m also concerned that my teens are right, and I don’t know anything and am rapidly losing my short-term memory.

But then I remember that age is a state of mind, that 80 year olds run marathons, and that I’ve got three decades of wisdom on my kids. I’m not going to let fear of the unknown or the passing of time stop me from becoming better. This year, I want to kick worry out of my head and embrace the word that I kept throwing at my state bound cross country runners: believe. Yes, Julia’s word for 2017 is believe, and her dreams / goals are as follows:

Goals for this year:

  • Write five days a week.
  • Finish editing my first manuscript and get a bunch of queries out there by October.
  • Write the first three drafts of my second manuscript and get feedback from beta readers by December.
  • Run a half marathon or at least a 10K and finally break through the “I’ve only got 30 minutes to run” busy mommy barrier by September.
  • Send one letter a week to friends or family.

Goals are specific and time-bound. A goal without a deadline is a dream, but dreams are good too. So,

Dreams for the next five to ten years:

  • Publish several books for teens and children.
  • Visit schools to encourage students to read and write creatively.
  • Start a local chapter of Girls on the Run to combat obesity and encourage strong self-esteem and positive body image among girls in my community.
  • Develop a middle school and high school soccer program for girls to do all the of things in the last dream as well as teach a love for the sport.
  • Stop worrying so dang much.

Word Nerd Challenge

I got a great response to my post The Underestimated Power of Stationery, in which I suggest that hand written notes carry great value for connecting with loved ones now and in the future. If you believe, like I do, that relationships are a key to happiness, would you please join me in this year long challenge to write one letter each week to a loved one? Dana of Kiss My List is doing it too, and we’d love to hear from others willing to commit!

What are your goals and dreams for 2017?  Have you picked a “theme word” for the year?  Please share!







A Holiday Gift: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Usually around the holidays, I share a post with gift ideas for Word Nerds. However, this year, I think everybody needs something different. Most people I talk to are stressing about unwrapped gifts and trees yet to be trimmed (or maybe even purchased). I inadvertently freaked out several of my friends when they received Christmas cards from me the first week of December. I sent early because we recently switched to a PO Box, and I wanted the new address to get out to loved ones before the holiday rush. Next year I’ll send later, I promise.

Something’s wrong here. A card in the mail shouldn’t elicit freak outs. It should spark warm fuzzies and happiness. So, I want to give you something better than gift ideas. I want to give you assurance. Here it is:

There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa).

If you think there is, please stop watching Hallmark commercials and listening to the Martha Stewart wannabe voice in your head. We are driving ourselves crazy, and we need to stop.

Just because I mailed my cards, don’t assume I’m ready for Christmas. I’m still acquiring presents and have not wrapped the first one. And baking? That usually doesn’t start until a few days before the holiday, except I just agreed to send in goodies for holiday parties and teacher luncheons next week, so baking will commence momentarily.
Except, I’m out of brown sugar.

I finally picked up a new string of lights to wrap around the garland on the shorter side of our stair banister. Well, turns out 50 feet is too short for the “short side”. Also, only half of the long side of the banister lights up. I have two strands linked together, so there are plenty of lights, however, the electricity jumps right through the first strand and only lights up the second strand.

I’m supposed to be happy at Christmas, but the holiday brings sad memories. We had to put my mom in a nursing home a few weeks before Christmas in 1995. She was often disoriented or withdrawn those days, but when I sang “Have a holly jolly Christmas” and gave her a kiss on the cheek, she would giggle and I would laugh. Now, 21 years after she died, that song makes me cry.

A delivery from Amazon arrived at my friend’s house when she wasn’t home, so her puppy got to the box before she did.  He managed to unwrap a DVD and poke exactly one tooth through the case. He also hid a box of wine glass charms. Fortunately, she found them the next day, but not before a near miss with a nervous breakdown.

Quote Magnet from Barnes and Noble

Maybe you’ve lost a loved one this year and the holidays are a bittersweet reminder of your pain. Maybe money is tight and you’re not sure how you can possibly afford presents for everyone. Maybe your marriage is tense and you have a hard time spreading holiday joy when you feel like picking a fight.

Whatever the reason, if you feel frazzled or failing, I assure you, you aren’t alone. It’s okay not to feel festive all the time. It’s also okay if your tree was decorated by a pack of children high on sugar who have no concept of balance. My tree has a “candy cane alley”.

The holidays have challenging moments, but they also have joyful moments, and the trick is to give ourselves enough of a break that we can enjoy the precious gifts we receive – and I don’t mean the ones wrapped in fancy paper.  Don’t let the lights and ribbons and pressures to “find that perfect gift” steal your happy.

Now, I have exactly one hour to wrap.  I won’t get everything done, but that’s okay. I’ve got time. So do you.

And if you still want gift ideas for Word Nerds, click here.  😉

Do you have an example of holiday imperfection that you can share? Please do so in the comments.







Favorite Books of 2016

A HUGE thank you to everyone who contributed suggestions to my Favorite Books of 2016 Giveaway. I love getting help from you each year because it generates an eclectic list of titles. If we kept it to my ideas, sci fi and nonfiction would get neglected.   I quoted comments that describe the books and why they were appealing; this post has many contributing authors. (Thank you every one!)

Speaking of comments, congratulations to the winner of this year’s Favorite Books Giveaway:

Megan Kinney

Megan, please email me the name of the book you would like to receive and where I should ship it.

Enjoy this list for gifting and personal pleasure:


Driving Hungry by Layne Mosler  “It’s a memoir that’s part travel writing, restaurant review, and cultural study, and love story. I enjoyed it all!”

Beginning French: Lessons from a Stone Farmhouse by Les Americans. “It’s about a California couple buying an old farmhouse in southern France and living there part of each year.”

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. “Ms Rhimes is an introvert (not surprising for a writer but surprising for her position in Hollywood), and she decided that she needed to make some changes in her life. I could relate to her fears and trepidation. It is written in a casual style that I found enjoyable.”

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein  “Jessi Klein is a comedy writer, but her memoir proves she can pen much more than one liners. Each essay is honest and real, and covers everything from her tomboy childhood, her dating life, to her quest for the perfect wedding dress. It’s a relatable, honest, and very funny book.”

Historical Fiction

The Moon in the Palace & The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

Science Fiction

14 by Peter Clines  “A delicious thriller of a science fiction novel. It features a very strange apartment building where every unit is unique, with strange asymmetrical cockroaches, cold spots, cryptic writing behind the wallpaper, and most intriguing of all, Unit 14 is padlocked shut.

Into the Dark by JA Sutherland.  “Ships, captains, shipmates, sailing, naval adventures, pirates, enemies, New London, loved ones, action, drama, suspense, and a heroine – ALL SET IN DEEP SPACE. I thought it was brilliant, unique, and entertaining as the young heroine faces enemies from without and surprisingly from within.”


A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving  “There is never a dull moment as it follows the two main characters from childhood to adulthood. It is funny, sad, touching, poignant, thought provoking, and thoroughly entertaining.”

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury  “A stunning and haunting coming-of-age.”

The Overton Window by Glenn Beck  (Political thriller)  Seamlessly weaving together American history, frightening facts about America’s present condition, and a fast-placed plot, Glenn’s new thriller will educate, enlighten, and, most importantly, entertain his fans in a whole new way.  [Goodreads]

A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas  (YA fantasy) “A perfect blend of fantasy and romance, with some thrills and high stakes thrown in. The beautiful writing with flawless phrasing is what hooked me.”

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans (Christian fiction). A life-changing journey, both physical and spiritual, The Walk is the first of several books about one man’s search for hope. [Goodreads]

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Thriller). “I liked the suspense. The main character had so many flaws and you just had to finish to see if what was happening was real and how it ended.”

Hurt by Tabitha Suzuma  (YA contemporary).  “It’s worth reading, well-written.”

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Blue by Danielle Steel “Not deep, but a nice story.”


Hamilton, the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter  Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It tells the story of a revolution – the one that founded this story, but also how this brilliant story came to be.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien  This book tells the horrors, the friendship, the fear and the shame of the Vietnam war with brutal honesty.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabelle Wilkerson

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain Non-fiction about, well, introversion and all that makes introverts tick. Highly recommended if you are an introvert or know/love one.

Becoming Grandmother by Lesley Stahl

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.  “It’s a heavy book and it’s difficult to read, but it was very good and it shows different perspectives of situations these students had to deal with. … a thought-provoking read that brings up some important points that all women, but especially college-age girls like me, should think about.”


The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty  Wonderful voice, great setting descriptions, and some deep questions.


For more reading suggestions, check out Goodreads Choice Award Winners for 2016.   Winners include Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty, Harry Potter, and Stephen King’s latest.

Do any of these books appeal to you?  I’ve added several to my Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf while compiling this post.  Thanks again, everyone!

The Underestimated Power of Stationery

People don’t write letters much anymore. In a world of tweets, texts, and emojis, letters seem slow and antiquated. And yet, there is something exciting about finding a hand written note in the mailbox! It says someone actually took the time to find stationery, sit down, and write a few thoughts on paper. Wow.

I’m not the only one who believes this. If I were, we all wouldn’t spend precious time and money sending holiday cards every year. There’s something about a hard copy card and a hand written note that we just can’t give up.  But I’d argue that hand written notes, and the stationery we pen them on, should have a place all the time, not just December.

Written letters connect us across time and distance.  My daughter exchanges lengthy letters with her Nana, and she’s learned many interesting things about my mother in law through this pen-pal relationship. Best of all, she will always have Nana’s letters to turn to for stories and wisdom. My grandmother and mother passed out of my life years ago, but I still have letters from each of them that I treasure.  It’s especially nice having samples of their handwriting, unique and personal remnants of their lives.

An example of stationery you can find at
An example of stationery you can find at

So, for a Word Nerdy gift this holiday season, I suggest personalized stationery.  You can lose hours researching stationery on the Internet, so let me save you some time.  I found the most affordable customizable stationery at, but it doesn’t come with envelopes. (I’m just gonna pick up some invitation sized envelopes at Walmart.)  If you’re willing to pay more, you can find classy and stylish stationery and cards at and, envelopes included. Expect to pay at least $1-$2 per sheet/card, and look for holiday promotions.

Word Nerd Note:  Up until a few months ago, I didn’t realize that stationery, or writing paper, is spelled differently than stationary, the adjective that means “lack of movement”. Stationery comes from the noun stationer, which is a person or store that sells stationery; years ago stationer meant bookseller or publisher. When you need help with spelling, remember that paper has “er” in it, and so does stationery.  (For more interesting facts about words, visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for Wondrous Words Wednesday.)

What are your thoughts on writing letters, and would you like to give or receive personalized stationery as a gift?

Thanks for sharing!