That Pesky Apostrophe – Lesson 1: Possession is 9/10’s of the Law

Next to the semicolon, the apostrophe is one of the most misunderstood punctuation marks in the English language, says me. Confusion arises, in part, because it’s such a multi-tasking little guy.

shutterstock_152162204Lesson 1 gives you some simple rules to apply most of the time when the apostrophe is showing possession.

In the opening paragraph it’s working as a place-holder for a missing letter: “it is.” That’s Lesson 2.

Lesson 3 is about the rare – YES – RARE occasions the apostrophe helps out a plural noun.

Apostrophe is most frequently misused when it’s followed by the letter “s” and used to show a plural or possessive (i.e. ownership) condition. No wonder – just Google the rules for apostrophe and prepare to settle down for attention-grabbing reading on genitive inflections.

When you aren’t sure how to use that pesky apostrophe in a possessive situation, keep these 2 rules in mind:

  1. Singular possessive (you possess it): Mark’s fishing pole; Agnes’s kayak. Agnes’ kayak is equally acceptable use; spell it as you would say it. In these cases the apostrophe is before the possessive “s.”
  2. Plural possessive (a group possesses it): The people’s choice – people is plural and they have 1 choice. If they had many choices it would be, “The peoples’ choices.”

The plumbers’ union – a group of plumbers “possess”, (in the membership-sense of the word) a union.

But if the noun describing the group ends in “s”, the plural possessive looks like this:

The classes’ assignment.

If your situation doesn’t seem to be described by these 2 simple situations, it’s probably not. The many exceptions fill pages – I won’t bore you here. That’s a lesson for the future.

Remember these 2 rules of thumb: (1) be consistent and (2) if in doubt, spell it like you would say it. The grammar nerds will thank you.



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