Setting the Standard for American’s Everywhere

Recently, I was reviewing a document that claimed a staff member was “most likely to set the turtleneck standard for American’s everywhere.” (Don’t ask.) Anyway, as soon as I saw “American’s,” I knew what my next blog topic had to be: the apostrophe.

The apostrophe (‘) is a punctuation mark used to indicate possession (“Mindy’s blog”) or the omission of letters or numbers (“can’t” or “class of ‘75”). This particular blog is going to focus on the rules related to possession. There are a number of them, so bear with me.

Rule #1: To show possession of a singular noun, you add an apostrophe + “s”:

  1. The bulldog’s underbite is his best feature.
  2. Mindy’s Cheetos await her return. (Don’t even think about touching my Cheetos.)
  3. Mr. Eadeh’s house has three refrigerators.
  4. It always comes down to the boss’s prerogative.

That last one looks weird, right? The fact is, there are a number of common nouns ending in the letter “s,” like “cactus,” or “syllabus.” Same goes for proper nouns, like the last names “Holmes” or “Tines.” There are conflicting rules about how to treat these. One common method many magazines and newspapers use adds an apostrophe + “s” to common nouns ending in “s” but an apostrophe only to proper nouns ending in “s.” I favor this method as well. Here are a few examples:

  1. The cactus’s needles were sharp.
  2. The class’s hours were long.
  3. Mr. Tines’ new dog attacked the kindly, unsuspecting painter.
  4. Nicholas’ desk was a mess.

Rule #2a: To show possession of a plural noun, put an apostrophe after the “s”:
Some plural nouns end in “s,” like “girls” and “dogs.” Others end in “es,” like “actresses” and “nurses.” Here are a few examples of plural possession:

  1. Girls’ night out
  2. Actresses’ roles

Rule #2: Do not attempt to make a word plural by adding an apostrophe + “s.”
When you make a word plural, you never need an apostrophe. You simply add the “s” or “es.” This trips a lot of people up, however, and before you know it, they’re penning phrases like “most likely to set the turtleneck standard for American’s everywhere.” (It should be “…Americans everywhere.”)

I see this a lot with the word “Christmas.” Instead of “I’ve spent many Christmases with my family,” some opt for “…many Christmas’s.” But the biggest culprits are proper names.

Quick quiz: which is correct?

  1. The Kroll’s are here.
  2. The Krolls are here.

That would be “B.” But how about this one?

  1. The Holmes’ are here.
  2. The Holmeses are here.

That, too, would be “B,” odd as it might look. Same goes for “Joneses,” “Sanchezes,” and other proper nouns ending in “es” or “ez.” You might want to add an apostrophe; you might even be convinced you need an apostrophe. But you don’t.

But what about….?
Irregular nouns?
Some nouns become plural by changing their spelling. “Person” becomes “people.” “Child” becomes “children.” “Tooth” becomes “teeth.”

For these, you add an apostrophe and an “s,” like:

  • Children’s toys
  • People’s court
  • Teeth’s roots

When two people possess the same item?
This is simple. You put the apostrophe and “s” after the second person’s name only. So you get:

  • Dan and Stacy’s dog
  • Steve and Mindy’s Cheetos (mostly Mindy’s)

So there you have it—everything I can think of related to apostrophes and possession. I’ll be back in a few weeks with an as-yet-unidentified topic. In the meantime, do apostrophes trip you up? Do you ever try to make a word plural by adding an apostrophe? And what else would you like to see covered in this blog?

Word of the Week: Scurrilous
Song of the Week:Possession,” by Sarah McLachlan