JS Tip 419: Apostrophes and Possession

From the Writing Workshops: Apostrophes and Possession

Linda Blair.

No. Not that kind of possession. 

Last week’s tip about “it’s” and “its” brought a response appropriate for us to address apostrophes and possession in general.

Notice we said “in general.” These are general guidelines. There are exceptions. We’ll start with the basics.

Make most singular nouns possessive by adding an apostrophe and an s

Check your owner’s manual. (Only one owner: you.)

Leah’s business card included her state certification number.

The board outlined the manager’s responsibilities. (One manager.)

An exception: If the additional s makes pronunciation difficult (usually with a z sound), use only an apostrophe:

The crew joked about Davey Jones’ locker. (Not Jones’s.)

We gave the file to Paul James’ attorney. (Not James’s.)

The lecture discussed Moses’ attitudes on law. (Not Moses’s.)

Authorities differ on this. Some suggest using the s; some don't. We suggest you punctuate based on your pronunciation. 

Make most plural nouns possessive by adding an apostrophe: 

Please come to the owners’ meeting. (More than one owner.)

The counselors’ cards included their state certification numbers.

The board outlined the managers’ responsibilities. (Several managers.)

An exception: Some plural nouns don’t end in s, so they take an apostrophe and an s:

The law addresses children’s rights.

Service in the People’s Liberation Army was compulsory.

Next week: More on apostrophes and possession. We’ll talk about a major and interesting exception.

Mark Brooks