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Sep 25 2011 Possessive Apostrophes – Getting Them Right.
How to use a possessive apostrophe

One of the more confusing aspects of the English language seems to be the Possessive Apostrophe. That little bitty mark which indicates ownership.

Of course, if the rules were consistent, I’m sure it would be so much easier, but as always there are exceptions and quirks to be aware of. Let’s take a look at some of these shall we?

With a Singular Noun

Generally the possessive apostrophe precedes the “s” for a singular noun.

This is Robert’s inflatable pony.

It’s entirely the dog’s fault!

That’s my brother’s tragic attempt at woodwork.

Easy!

With a Plural Noun

When you’re referring to plural noun (that is, a group of items or people), you need to make the word a plural first (eg. monkey to monkeys) then add the apostrophe after the “s” to indicate ownership.

I’m going to the Ladies’ room to power my nose.

The lions’ enclosure is just past the first-aid station.

The Baldwins’ career path is one they should reconsider. (Seriously, their acting is terrible!)

So far, so good.

But what do you do if you’re referring to the Jones family? Do you put an apostrophe at the end? Add another “s”? Refuse to have anything to do with them so you can avoid the whole conundrum in the first place?

With a Plural Noun Ending in “S”

Generally, you would apply the same rules as discussed above. If you’re talking about something belonging to James (singular), you would add a possessive apostrophe after the noun and before the “s”.

That’s James’s car.

When you’re referring to the something owned by the Jones family (plural), again, you would apply the above rules. Make the name a plural before adding the apostrophe to the end.

 That’s the Joneses’ house.

Of course, there are some people who prefer to simply put a possessive apostrophe at the end of a noun ending in “s” and leave it at that.

That’s James’ car

That’s the Jones’ house.

Unfortunately, there really doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rules on the correct use of the possessive apostrophe with nouns ending in “s”, so either way is usually accepted. Your best bet is to spell it, as you would say it in conversation.

Next week I’ll take us through Possessive Nouns which don’t use a Possessive Apostrophe.

Just when you thought you had it sorted!

Posted in Copywriting Tips by 16 comments

16 Responses to “Possessive Apostrophes – Getting Them Right.”

  • Reply Yolande Pritchard September 26, 2011at 1:17 am

    Great blog, thanks for sharing the correct use of apostrophes. It has definately cleared up any queries I had on this little sucker. In the past I have never got this right and always hoped for the best. 🙂

    • Reply Anna Butler September 26, 2011at 1:55 am

      Thanks for your feedback Yolande and I’m so glad you found it helpful. 

      I always struggle with how unwieldy the possessive nouns ending in “s” sound…. almost like you have a speech impediment, but at least there’s room to use your own discretion. 

    • Reply DotPonto September 26, 2011at 8:55 am

      “Definitely”

  • Reply DotPonto September 26, 2011at 8:54 am

    Even for people who understand apostrophes, the “plurals ending in s” are often hard to know. For example, is it “for Jesus’ sake” or “for Jesus’s sake”? Although it depends on the writer’s preference, I go by the very sensible style rule in the editing guide of a magazine I worked on. The rule said to go by the sound.

    If you say “Jameses” then write it as “James’s”. If you say it without the additional syllable, then just put an apostrophe at the end. For example: “The Christians’ faith”.

    • Reply Anna Butler September 26, 2011at 9:24 am

      Thanks for your comments DotPonto. Bang on.

      With so many anomalies in the English language and the rules of grammar, it’s no wonder it’s so easy for people make a simple gaffe.

  • Reply Daniel Smith September 28, 2011at 5:56 am

    thanks Anna – now I can feel like I’m keeping up with the Jones’ a bit more on the the grammatical front. Or is it Joneses’… 😉

    • Reply Anna Butler September 28, 2011at 6:44 am

      LOL – I’m glad I can help you keep up with the Joneses ;D 

      My work here is done! (..Now if only I had a cape and could fly off into the sunset..!)

  • Reply Anna Butler September 29, 2011at 1:07 am

    A quick shout out to the very lovely Gina Lofaro (The Word Mistress) who picked up a gaffe in this blog. It was very much appreciated.

    The reality is, I don’t always have the time to let my own blogs sit for proofing, which reinforces why I don’t like to do rush jobs for my clients; sometimes it’s easy to overlook a simple error when you’ve not given the copy time to sit, which is why I always build that time into my client’s work.

    Meanwhile, I love that my copywriting community is so very supportive of each other 🙂

    • Reply the wordmistress September 29, 2011at 2:33 am

      Hi Anna 🙂

      I hear ya! None of us can claim to be perfect … impossible though it may seem lol.

      I think your post is a very valuable reference to others who always get that uncomfortable feeling when they’re about to use a possessive pronoun, and wish they could find a quick page with the answers. Kind of like cramming for an English exam, and who knows? Maybe you’ll help a smartphone-wielding student get an A next round :).

      Nicely done!

  • […] last week’s blog, I looked at Possessive Apostrophes… which should only ever be used to indicate ownership (not […]

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  • Reply Kyla-Jayne Rajah May 12, 2013at 8:39 am

    Hi…wondering why mother’s day is singular noun when it is a group of people…ie, mothers. Shouldn’t it be mothers’ day?

    • Reply Anna Butler May 15, 2013at 3:40 pm

      Hi Kyla-Jayne, that’s a great question! I came across this article which discusses the origins of Mother’s Day, the sentiments behind it AND the placement of the apostrophe.

      According to the article:

      She [Anne Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day] was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.

      So while you’re correct that it should be Mother’ Day if referring to all mothers, it was trademarked as Mother’s Day because the intent was to honour the individual, not the collective.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  • Reply Merryn Padgett May 15, 2013at 6:07 pm

    Thanks Anna! I regularly face this quandary.

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