Troubles with Apostrophes
Facebook groups, web sites, and even organizations are dedicated to the numerous examples of this little piece of punctuation’s incorrect usage. Plaguing even native speakers, the apostrophe has been compared to a fly (bringing about the term apostrofly), with no seeming reason for landing where it may. Then you have the examples above, which are missing the punctuation altogether.
(Apostrophes, Apostrophe’s, Apostrophes’) can be confusing even for native speakers.
U2’s latest (rock ’n roll, rock ’n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll) album was made available free on iTunes.
Jesse’s been (DJng, DJing, DJ’ing) for years.
(Descartes’, Descartes’s, Both Descartes’ and Descartes’s) philosophies, an extreme form of relativism, doubted the validity of everything, leading him to one “truth” he found verifiable: “I think; therefore, I am.”
Jenna is heading to Ireland in fewer than three (days, day’s, days’) time.
With her womanly advice and parental insights, Wendy is a good friend of (Ben, Bens, Ben’s).
*BONUS* For (goodness, goodness’, goodness’s) sake, don’t take everything so seriously!
- As many of you have probably seen, apostrophes are often mistakenly used to form plurals. The general rule is that you should not use an apostrophe to form the plurals of nouns or abbreviations. Exceptions include letters standing alone (p’s and q’s) and single-digit Arabic numerals (2’s but 100s).
Apostrophes can be confusing even for native speakers.
- Apostrophes can be used to show the omission of missing letters or numbers. Here it is best to show the omission of the a and d with their own separate apostrophes, but be careful: Computers will often mistake two apostrophes for a quote, replacing the first apostrophe with a single quotation mark.
Just remember that this is an apostrophe:
U2’s latest rock ’n’ roll album was made available free on iTunes.
- In general, a verb fashioned from an abbreviation is indicated with an apostrophe (e.g., OK’s, KO’d, IM’ing).
Jesse’s been DJ’ing for years.
- The general rule is that with singular nouns ending in s, you add an apostrophe plus an s when the extra s is pronounced. The s in Descartes is normally silent, so it would be Decartes’s. AP style does not follow this rule and says to add just an apostrophe when a singular noun ends in –s.
(Both Descartes’ and Descartes’s) philosophies, an extreme form of relativism, doubted the validity of everything, leading him to one “truth” he found verifiable: “I think; therefore, I am.”
- Going beyond possession, the genitive case is used to the show the relationship between two things for a variety of different reasons. One of the tricky ones is the relationship of measurement, but just as the movie Two Weeks Notice should have an apostrophe so should the plural days in this example.
Jenna is heading to Ireland in fewer than three days' time.
- As you will also come to see below, idiomatic expressions sometimes don't adhere to today’s standard rules. The double possessive is one such instance. The only restrictions are that what follows the of in a double possessive should be human (a friend of Jane’s but a friend of the university).
With her womanly advice and parental insights, Wendy is a good friend of Ben's.
- As a euphemism for God’s sake, goodness’ sake defies the rule that you add an apostrophe plus s for singular items, hanging on the argument that you do not pronounce the double s sound in the idiomatic expression. (Also, appearance’ sake, convenience’ sake)
For goodness’ sake, don’t take everything so seriously!
Rudy thinks my example movie titles may be right as-is: “I don’t think you would say “ladies’ night” because it’s not possessive in that the night doesn’t belong to the ladies. … Wouldn’t in these instances “ladies” and “couples” function more as an adjective describing the subsequent noun than a possessive?”
Genitive case goes beyond mere possession, but since possessive has become the popular term, it makes things difficult to understand. I heard a simple test is to show ownership with of.
Notice of two weeks
Man of the ladies
Retreat of couples—this, of course, sounds weird because of the more common definition of retreat
You will hear an argument about it acting as an adjective. While it does have merit, I think it is more bending the rules than following the rules. But the current ambiguity may lead to different implications down the road, so while I would say veterans’ hospital is better, veterans hospital may actually better show that the hospital is for the veterans and not run by the veterans. (Also note, my grammar checker wants me to change it to veterans’.)