Weekly Grammar Tip: Apostrophes

An apostrophe is generally used for two purposes:

  • as part of a contraction to denote the missing letters, for example: Don’t talk while you’re eating, it’s rude.
  • to denote ownership, for example: Fern’s chocolate is delicious.

The apostrophe is often abused when used to indicate ownership, however, particularly when paired with the word “it” as it can get a bit confusing!

When using the apostrophe with nouns, the general rule is to place the apostrophe before the “s” if it’s singular or after the “s” if it’s plural.

  • singular (one dog): the dog’s paws are muddy
  • plural (more than one dog): the dogs’ paws are muddy

When adding ” ‘s” to a plural, or to a word that ends with “s”, it is not incorrect for the “s” to be followed by an additional “s”, separated by the apostrophe, however it is not especially common these days, for example:

  • the dogs’s paws are muddy
  • James’s feet smell strange

 

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3 comments on “Weekly Grammar Tip: Apostrophes

  1. So true, Stef. You have already pointed out that most hated use of apostrophes –
    “The following examples are incorrect: ‘I have a lot of book’s’ and ‘There are lots of tree’s in the forest’. These words are plural and do not require apostrophes.”
    I was wondering what your thinking is around using plurals as adjectives?

    e.g. Mothers Day, Mothers’ Day, Mother’s Day?

    or even more confusing –

    Childrens Day or Children’s Day? (since children is already plural, does Childrens even make sense?)

    Love from your grammar-loving neighbour!

    • I panic when Mother(‘)s(‘) Day (or Father-s-) rolls around because I know I will have panic attacks and end up clutching apostrophes protectively to my chest. Given they are days of celebration for ALL mothers and fathers, it would be correct to say “Mothers’ Day” however apparently the founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, placed the apostrophe between the ‘r’ and the ‘s’ because it was a day for each family to honour their (singular) mother, not all mothers in the world: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=c942370c-cdbb-43b2-af59-71ad4b546854

      Somewhere along the way the apostrophe gets dropped, whether from laziness or ignorance, but the “official” correct use is Mother’s Day!

      As for Children’s Day (which, as you say, is already a plural and therefore the apostrophe should be placed between the ‘n’ and ‘s’) – my dear Mum turns her nose up at the concept because “isn’t every day children’s day?”

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