The Red Pen: Your Abuse of Apostrophes’ Make’s Me Want to Die, Part 2

We Need to Talk About Grammar is a weekly feature in which I complain about grammatical mistakes I encounter all too often. Feel free to commiserate below, and check out the archives here!

Last week, we talked about a bunch of ways that people abuse apostrophes. I had originally written it to be one single post, but then things got a little long-winded when I got to all the different ways to use apostrophes in plural possessive nouns. I thought it might be worth it to dedicate a single post to plural possessive nouns. Check out my thoughts below, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Plural possessives can get dicey and awkward. The first thing you need to remember is #1 from last week: plural nouns by themselves never take an apostrophe before the s. The second thing you need to remember is that the apostrophe comes after the s when a noun is both plural and possessive. Observe:

The apples’ color was a healthy, bright red.

The Thompsons’ house was damaged in the hailstorm.

Of course, saying “The apple’s color” would work just fine, but only if there was only one apple. “The Thompson’s house,” on the other hand, does not make sense, unless a “Thompson” is some sort of proper noun that doesn’t refer to someone’s name.

Where it gets especially complicated is in nouns that are plural without an s. In this case, the apostrophe comes before the s that indicates possession:

The children’s snacks were all provided by the parents.

The geese’s honking kept us up all night.

Don’t ask me why, English is weird.

Vol. 13 shrug gif

Finally, people also seem to get confused with possessive nouns that end in s, plural or not. The rule seems to change depending on whom you consult. What I learned growing up was that you add the ‘s for words of one syllable, and just add an apostrophe for words with more than one syllable:

I spent the night at Jess’s house.

I love Julie Andrews’ voice.

Another rule I recently discovered that I like even better is to go by pronunciation. That is, if you would pronounce the possessive s, as you would in Jess’s (Jess-iz), you add the ‘s. If you wouldn’t, then you just add the apostrophe. I’m sort of conflicted on whether I would say Julie “Andrews-iz” or not, though, so make what you will of that rule.

Thus ends my two-week long tirade about apostrophes. If you missed last week’s post, check it out here!


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2 thoughts on “The Red Pen: Your Abuse of Apostrophes’ Make’s Me Want to Die, Part 2

  1. The apostrophe rule for names ending in “s” drives me a bit crazy. It is definitely a preference vs rule thing – Chicago says pretty much always add it (they have exceptions) but they also note that in editing some house style opts for just the apostrophe and no extra “s.” I hate exceptions! Just tell me what to dooooo!

    • Ahhh I know, right? I like the pronunciation rule, but people pronounce things differently…so there’s never any way to be sure.

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