We have all seen signs or menus with misplaced apostrophes. This is such a widespread problem that there are galleries of pictures of nothing but erroneous apostrophes. This picture was taken at a daycare facility, but the four (4!!!!) incorrect apostrophes (and the missing G from the word “gates” and the missing “and” between “parents” and “guardians”) leave me wondering whether this is the right place for children even though I know nothing else about the daycare. That is precisely the point—apostrophe abuse distracts readers and leaves the impression that the writer is clueless.
Let us get something straight. Apostrophes DO NOT make singular nouns into plural nouns. If you want to make a noun plural, you generally need to add an “s” or an “es,” but you NEVER need to add an apostrophe. An apostrophe shows ownership or possession. Nothing more and nothing less.
The trickiest part of learning to use apostrophes is dealing with plural possessives. Consider this example: there are a group of soldiers and you want to write that their uniforms are green. How do you convey this thought? You place an apostrophe after the (s) in soldiers. You write that “the soldiers’ uniforms are green.”
To show the possessive of a singular noun ending in (s) you still add (‘s) to make it a possessive noun. An example is the word bus. If you want to refer to the riders on a bus, the proper way to do so is to write “the bus’s riders.” The same is true even if you are writing about a person. When writing about hair belonging to Jess, you write “Jess’s hair.”
This is the first in what will become a series of posts titled Tools of the Trade. Use the comment section below to suggest what should come next in this series.