Don’t Let Granules of Grammar (Like These Annoying Apostrophes) Stop You From Writing Powerful Prose.
How to Master those Annoying Apostrophes with this Simple Guide.
Like a lot of pesky punctuation and grammar, correct use of apostrophes can get confusing. I found myself Googling the correct use the other day and thought I’d share the rules here quickly for anyone who needed a refresher.
In these cases I’ll be discussing apostrophes that are used to show possession of something. (I won’t be covering apostrophes used in contractions). Instead of saying:
The genital warts of Robert were giving him trouble again, you could say: Robert’s genital warts were giving him trouble again.
Pretty easy huh? Notice how I underlined the word of ? There is a little test you can do to confirm if an apostrophe is required (which I found on the Dummies.com site). If you can claim ownership of the noun with the word of, then use an apostrophe.
- The lazy eye of the man => The man’s lazy eye
- The broken peg-leg of the mean pirate => The mean pirate’s broken peg-leg
- The purr of the pussycat => The pussycat’s purr
- A week of rain filled the tank => A week’s rain filled the tank
It is important to note too, that the above examples are apostrophes for singular nouns – Ie. One pirate’s peg-leg. So just when you thought you had the hang of it all the rules change slightly if you are writing about plural nouns owning something. In this case, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’. (This is what I was looking up). This rule applies because the noun already has an ‘s’ at the end.
Here is some examples:
- Their histories’ recording had been sketchy => The recording of their histories…
- Two centuries’ erosion cut into the rocky shore => Two centuries of erosion cut…
- A thousand beetles’ tiny legs => The tiny legs of a thousand beetles
- Thousands of dragons’ eggs were found buried inside the cave => The eggs of many dragons were found…
Then there are irregular plural possessive apostrophes. These are for nouns that are plurals but that do not end in ‘s’. Notice that the of rule doesn’t really apply so much here.
- She filled the children’s water balloons with paint => She filled the water balloons belonging to the children with paint
- The women’s bathroom had overflowed with water => The bathroom that belonged to the women had overflowed with water
- The sheep’s pen was overgrown with brambles => The pen belonging to the sheep was overgrown with brambles
- The fish’s water had been poisoned => The water belonging to the fish was poisoned
And then what happens if two or more people own something? Like if John and Lisa’s boat got stolen? Well both John and Lisa own the boat so the apostrophe goes at the end of the second name. Like so:
- Mary and Harold’s love shack
- Barbara and Steven Walter’s daughter
- Lucas and Kate’s evening together
When do both people have apostrophes? Well that is when you might be writing about two people who own the similar things even though they are separate. For example:
- Ben’s and George’s tuxedoes needed drycleaning (they both own separate tuxedoes – but they are mentioned as a collective) or
- David’s and Vanessa’s attitudes towards parenting were very different.
I hope that has helped. It has certainly cleared up a few things for me!