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January 1, 2013

            Something that’s bugged me for a long time has been when to use an apostrophe to show possession and plurals for nouns. I’ve sometimes confused the usage and now realized that I got them wrong as often as not.

            The subject came up working with my grandson on his English schoolwork. I thought I had the correct answer and had to do a quick Internet search. I was not quite right and the answer I got in return was confusing. Then I received a present for Christmas I’ve been wanting for several years, The Chicago Manual Of Style, by now, the 16th Edition. I’m hot stuff!

            This book is mandatory for any editor and should be on your shelf as a serious writer, or at least accessible to you for those tough grammatical questions. I now have it sitting next to me as I work on the sequel to Meleena’s Adventures, now titled, Gods Of The Blue Mountains.

            The fact that I rarely have to use the book is beside the point. I occasionally come to a point where I have a grammatical question. I’ve been embarrassed before. Or, I’ve come to a place where something just didn’t look right and I didn’t get that touchy-feely vibe about a sentence or syntax. Now I have that expert reference readily available.

            Before I digress any further, have you ever wondered the correct way to use an apostrophe for a possessive noun? I wish I could say the following will clarify things for you. I like to take pride in being able to clarify those muddy things for people in plain English (ha ha). In this case, well…

            By far the most common usage is apostrophe then s.

            The other instance is when the apostrophe goes at the end of the word, in other words, s then apostrophe. This is where thing get really confusing. By far, that form is the exception and the biggest headache to figure out. I’ve read through the rules several times and still don’t have a good handle on it. What I can give to you are a few things below that may help you know when to use the apostrophe on the end, rather than when to use it in the most common way.

            puppies’ because the plural of puppy is not puppy(s) (I guess?)

            The apostrophe at the end is generally used for the plural possessive. I say generally because there are a myriad of exceptions. The manual suggests several examples but so as not to break copyright, I won’t list them. Instead, I’ll try to come up with my own.

            The Sanchezes’ new pool,

            The Harpers’ new house,

            The Driscolls’ green lawn,

            Your best bet is to go with singular using apostrophe and s and the plural s and apostrophe only if you have to, unless it just doesn’t look right. Then either ask someone, go on line, or wait until an editor catches it. They’ll probably have to look it up also unless it’s a very common example they deal with all the time, or they’re very good and detail oriented!

            I wish I were that good!

            In the end, if I don’t get a warm fuzzy off the apostrophe, I can now consult the manual. However, now that I have it and have studied the pages, I’m not much clearer than I was before I got the book! There are four main rules, three exceptions to the general rule and seven particular rules to the possessive form! Put that in your pipe and smoke it (to quote a well-worn cliché).

            Isn’t English fun?

            Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy West permalink
    January 2, 2013 5:18 am

    I had a punctuation anxiety attack last week when I saw something like this:
    “We’re heading to the Robinsons’s house.”

    • January 3, 2013 2:59 am

      Peggy, I believe it should be Robinson’s house. Unless their name is Robinsons then it should be apostrophe S. Takes a minute to think about it!

      That’s a good one!

      One can overthink these things and I’ve done it plenty of times.

      Thanks for the great example.


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