Something weird happened last night. Just as I was thinking of him, Carson called me. I love it when that happens – and it happens quite a bit – but it still freaks me out a little. I mean, I love Carson and I’m always happy to talk to him, but we hadn’t actually directly connected to each other since our last Skype date, what?, a month or so ago? So when my phone buzzed with his call at exactly the same time I was thinking of him, it kind of blew my mind.
Anyway, our conversation revolved around nothing in particular – it was more of a “hey, I was thinking of you so I called you” kind of thing (again, with the mind-blowing). Before we hung up, though, he asked me if I’d address something in a Grammar Wednesday that was bugging him. Because I love Carson (and because I didn’t have anything better in mind), I told him I would.
It seems Carson subscribes to Runner’s Weekly (he runs. A lot. For long distances and great stretches of time. I have no idea why). “Shouldn’t the apostrophe be after the s?” he asked me.
Yeah, I think it should. I mean, it’s reasonable to assume that the magazine is aimed at more than one runner, right? The magazine doesn’t belong to just that one guy, right?
Here are the rules (as I learned them) about making things plural:
If you have a singular noun, proper or otherwise, and something belongs only to that noun, use an apostrophe-s – Schrodinger’s cat, Schrodinger’s cat’s favorite box, my friend’s weird-o traditions.
If you have a collective noun that ends in something other than an s, and something belongs to the entire group as a collective, use an apostrophe-s. The pride’s kill, my family’s ancestry, the group’s rehearsal space.
If you have a plural noun that ends in s, proper or otherwise, and something belongs to that group as a collective, use an s-apostrophe (in other words, put an apostrophe after the s that makes the noun plural) – the girls’ bedroom (they share it), the generals’ battle plans, the Windsors’ castle.
If you have an irregular plural noun, use an apostrophe-s – the women’s locker room, the children’s nursery school.
The exception to the ‘noun ending in s’ guideline tends to be with names that end in a ‘z’ sound, and even there I’ve seen variation. The way I decide whether to use an apostrophe-s or an s-apostrophe is I say the word; if I add an extra “es” syllable to the end, I use an apostrophe-s (Jesus’s followers). If I don’t add the extra syllable, I use s-apostrophe (Mr. Hastings’ class).