Grammar Wednesday

The apostrophe.

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.

image credit

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).




Filed under Grammar

10 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. I’m going to say that I hope it was done deliberately as a marketing ploy. This magazine is JUST FOR YOU, Runner! (Buy it!) *grin*

    I think in most cases it’s one person in a household who buys or subscribes to a magazine. Not all, surely. But most.

  2. I think there’s also an exception to the apostrophe-s rule (in some guides, anyway) when adding the additional s would put 3 next to each other (if the noun already ends with an s and the next word starts with an s, for instance).

  3. needsatimeout

    okay I am still confused and I actually noticed something today when my director wrote on our message board. We offer a night out for the parents once a month we should call it Parents’ night out instead of Parent’s night out?I almost asked her but decided I would google it and try to understand. She writes it Parent’s night out but that didn’t seem right to me.

    • In this case, I’d probably defer to the singular “parent’s” night, as not all parents are plural (in fact, in an informal observation of my daughters’ classmates parents, I’d have to say that coupled parents are the exception…).

  4. I learned that with names ending in S, you do apostrophe-s: “Mr. Jones’s dog,” etc. The exception is biblical and classical names, which only take an apostrophe: Moses’, Zeus’, Socrates’, etc.

    For the magazine, I might think of it as a magazine for the runner, and therefore the apostrophe is correct. But I think overall it makes more sense to have it as s-apostrophe, rather than apostrophe-s.

    • Lara, I hear you. I am working on a book with a colleague and we went all around the world to address the matter of WEB Du Bois. Hence, Du Bois’ or Du Bois’s. We settled with the latter after conforming to what others have used.

  5. Crazy world when smart people are on the same page. Yes, it has been way too long since we last spoke. Oh, why do I run 80 miles per week? So I can go have a bottle of Merlot and pizza with the wife tonight. I will eat most of it.

  6. Running may also seem like a mostly solitary sort of thing so they may trying to address each runner’s world individually.

  7. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves has a great explanation for this. 😀

  8. Pingback: Quick Hit: For Carson « The Blue Door

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