That Pesky Apostrophe – Lesson 3: A Refresher and A Review

We are wrapping up the Pesshutterstock_255981343ky Apostrophe series with Lesson 3 – a refresher on plural nouns and use of an apostrophe. Plural nouns don’t have a lot to do with pesky apostrophes, but they confuse even the nerdiest of grammarphiles, so they are the topic of Lesson 3.

A table summarizing all 3 lessons follows. The Associated Press Stylebook* was instrumental in helping make sense of these rules and providing examples. Is it any wonder the apostrophe was the first type of punctuation covered by the Stylebook in the section, A Guide to Punctuation?

A Noun Refresher

Noun – a person, place or thing; usually made plural by adding an “s” to the end with no apostrophe. Example: apple, apples, kayak, kayaks,

Exceptions to the above: nouns made plural by adding something other than, or in addition to, an “s.” Examples include: fish, fishes, child, children, mouse, mice.

Another group of exceptions are nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning. This group includes measles, mathematics, to name a few. To show possession, add an apostrophe after the “s.”

Scissors and scissors are another exception – in this case there is no change to the singular and plural form of the word. In fact, this noun is typically referred to as a pair of scissors even when there is only one. Maybe our brains just can’t wrap around the idea of a noun ending in “s” being a single.

Another funky category of nouns are those that have an “s-sound” at the end – the example “mice” being one of those. The plural-possessive is “mice’s,” as in “The mice’s escape route was between the kitchen walls.”

In Summary

SINGLE NOUN SHOWING POSSESSION: Mark’s fishing pole, Agnes’s kayak, Agnes’ kayak (either is OK)

PLURAL NOUN SHOWING POSSESSION: The People’s choice, Plumbers’ union, The classes’ assignment, The mice’s cheese

CONTRACTIONS: You’re (You are) – not “your” – that means you own it, it does not mean you are doing something. Another example:  It’s (it is) – not “its” – another form of ownership, “Its bark was worse than its bite.”

PLURAL NOUNS: Apple – Apples, Fish – Fishes, Child – Children, Scissors – Scissors

*The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, (2007)

A Final Thought

When all else fails and you are uncertain whether an apostrophe should be used, avoid the situation by rewording the phrase. Or consult the Associated Press Stylebook.

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