Apostrophe catastrophe-part 2

Let’s start with a warm-up exercise. Rewrite these phrases following the example in the first line.

the office of the doctor -> the doctor’s office
the headquarters of the franchise ->
the epistle of James ->
the experiences of other people ->
the opinions of the experts ->
the nursery of the children ->

Today’s topic is the apostrophe and how we use it to show possession.

(If you haven’t read my previous post, you may want to do so first.)

singular nouns

In the singular, the simple rule is: add an apostrophe plus s.

the judge’s gavel
the boss’s wife

Some people don’t add an s if the word already ends in an s sound but that’s your choice. So, both of these are acceptable:

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

plural nouns

To show possession in the plural, the same rule applies: add an apostrophe plus s.

Only this time, what was optional before is now mandatory: if the word already ends in an s (as many plural nouns do, of course), we never add another s.

all the deer (plural) -> all the deer’s antlers
the two customers -> the two customers’ complaints

It’s irregular nouns and personal names where we see so many “apostrophe catastrophes.” Just keep in mind this simple formula:

(1) make the noun plural -> (2) make the noun possessive

This is how it works:

mouse -> mice -> the mice’s droppings
person -> people -> the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Kievit -> the Kievits -> the Kievits’ newsletter


Now that you’ve mastered the English possessive, can you correct these washroom signs I saw the other day?

The one sign said ladies and the other sign said mens.

If ladies refers to more than one lady, then mens must be more than one men, right?

Can you fix these two signs (ladies and mens) using apostrophes? Send in your answer using the comment feature below (click on the word comments at the end of this message below my signature) or e-mail me at dirk_kievit@editors.ca. Along with your answer, try to explain your corrections.

And before you go, here are the answers for our warm-up exercise:

the office of the doctor -> the doctor’s office
the headquarters of the franchise -> the franchise’s headquarters
the epistle of James -> James’s epistle
the experiences of other people -> other people’s experiences
the opinions of the experts -> the experts’ opinions
the nursery of the children -> the children’s nursery

Image at top courtesy of Keattikom.

Apostrophe catastrophe-part 1

If you think my title is an exaggeration, think again. Here are two real-life examples I witnessed recently:

We help British Columbian’s.
Hope its your bird.

The apostrophe must be the most abused piece of punctuation so I’m going to devote two posts to it. In this post we’ll talk about plurals and its versus it’s.


We can be very quick: to make something plural, you never use an apostrophe and s—not even if it’s a proper noun (that is, a name).

Here are some examples:

British Columbians (as in ‘we help British Columbians’)
Josiahs (as in ‘there are three Josiahs in our church’)
the Kievits (as in ‘the Kievits are late again’)

The words that tend to trip people up are ones ending in the letter o. Do you know the plurals of these?


Here are the answers: tomatoes, rodeos, potatoes, photos, tuxedos/tuxedoes, zeros/zeroes, heroes, portfolios.

The general rule is that if there’s a vowel before the o, add -s. Otherwise, it’s usually safe to add -es. But, of course, there are plenty of exceptions, so check a dictionary to be sure.

But whatever you do, don’t ever add an apostrophe and s to make a word plural. You can’t eat tomato’s or upload photo’s.

Its or it’s

This is doubtlessly the most confused pair of words in the English language.

Just remember this simple rule: if you can replace the word with it is or it has, use it’s; otherwise use its.

It’s a nice day. (It is a nice day.)
Its feathers are white.
It’s been ages since we last talked. (It has been ages since we last talked.)
Do you know its owner?

Next time we’ll continue this discussion by looking at possessives.

In the meantime, watch your apostrophes. We don’t want to see another apostrophe catastrophe!

Image at top courtesy of sottchan.