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the NALS docket November 2010 : Page 2

Possessive v. Plural... By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS, CLA I proofread documents—a LOT. The documents are written by fairly intelligent people. So, I would think, are books, newspaper and magazine articles, television news headlines, etc. One thing that is consistently wrong in all of these is the poor little apostrophe. An apostrophe’s duty is to signify ownership or missing letters in a word. It is often mistakenly used, however, to signify pluralization of a word. The only time an apostrophe would be used for pluralization is where you are trying to pluralize an abbreviation or a single letter where it may be confusing, i.e., four A’s (since “as” is a word, it could be confusing to not use the apostrophe). How do you determine whether to use an apostrophe to designate ownership? In teaching a Business English class, I was fortunate to have a section in the textbook on this very topic that was extremely helpful. Try these steps: 1. Look for what you think is the possessive portion of the sentence. the woman[’s] dress the children[’s] toys the teacher[’s] pen the guests[’] rooms 2. Reverse the nouns. If the “of” phrase fits, it should be possessive. the dress of the woman the toys of the children the pen of the teacher the rooms of the guests 3. Examine the word that shows ownership and see how it ends. For correct placement of the apostrophe, you need to determine whether the ownership word ends in an s sound. If the ownership word does not end in an s sound, add an apostrophe and an s the woman’s dress the children’s toys the teacher’s pen The Never-Ending Battle Continues 5. If the ownership word does end in an s sound, you usually add only an apostrophe. the guests’ rooms It is imperative that you correctly understand the ownership word. In the example above, there are multiple guests and multiple rooms belonging to the guests, but it could just as easily be multiple rooms belonging to one guest (in which case it would be “the guest’s rooms”). Be careful about placement of the apostrophe because it can change the meaning of the entire sentence. Once you determine whether the ownership word starts out singular or plural, the typical rule of thumb is that if you say the extra s sound, you put the extra s after the apostrophe. For example, in the case of “Phoenix’s buildings,” you would add the s after the apostrophe, even though the letter x makes the s sound because you say the final s. However, in the case of “Mr. Andrews’ briefcase,” you would not add s after the apostrophe because you do not say another s—it is just Mr. Andrews not Mr. Andrewses. Remember that the apostrophe is only to show possession or missing letters (except for the clarity exception mentioned above). If there are two or more of something, there is no apostrophe. In that case, only add the correct version of s to make it plural: The secretaries sat in a circle (secretaries is plural— there is more than one but they do not own the circle). The books were shelved (books—more than one but they do not own the shelf ). It is not a difficult concept, but something you need to stop and think about. Using an apostrophe incorrectly or not using it at all makes it difficult for the reader to understand what it is you are trying to say and is annoying to people who understand the difference. Take some time to practice. Do a Google search for “apostrophe worksheet” or a similar search. There is a lot of information available to you. Also, make sure to review the Gregg Reference Manual (Section 6 in the 11th edition) for assistance with plurals and possessives. Your apostrophe (and your reader) will be very glad you did. 4. the NALS docket 4

E-Learn: Possessive v. Plural

Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS, CLA

I proofread documents—a LOT. The documents are written by fairly intelligent people. So, I would think, are books, newspaper and magazine articles, television news headlines, etc. One thing that is consistently wrong in all of these is the poor little apostrophe. An apostrophe’s duty is to signify ownership or missing letters in a word. It is often mistakenly used, however, to signify pluralization of a word. The only time an apostrophe would be used for pluralization is where you are trying to pluralize an abbreviation or a single letter where it may be confusing,i. e., four A’s (since “as” is a word, it could be confusing to not use the apostrophe).<br /> <br /> How do you determine whether to use an apostrophe to designate ownership? In teaching a Business English class, I was fortunate to have a section in the textbook on this very topic that was extremely helpful. Try these steps:<br /> <br /> 1. Look for what you think is the possessive portion of the sentence.<br /> <br /> The woman[’s] dress the children[’s] toys the teacher[’s] pen the guests[’] rooms<br /> <br /> 2. Reverse the nouns. If the “of” phrase fits, it should be possessive.<br /> <br /> The dress of the woman the toys of the children the pen of the teacher the rooms of the guests<br /> <br /> 3. Examine the word that shows ownership and see how it ends. For correct placement of the apostrophe, you need to determine whether the ownership word ends in an s sound.<br /> <br /> 4. If the ownership word does not end in an s sound, add an apostrophe and an s <br /> <br /> the woman’s dress the children’s toys the teacher’s pen<br /> <br /> 5. If the ownership word does end in an s sound, you usually add only an apostrophe.<br /> <br /> The guests’ rooms<br /> <br /> It is imperative that you correctly understand the ownership word. In the example above, there are multiple guests and multiple rooms belonging to the guests, but it could just as easily be multiple rooms belonging to one guest (in which case it would be “the guest’s rooms”). Be careful about placement of the apostrophe because it can change the meaning of the entire sentence.<br /> <br /> Once you determine whether the ownership word starts out singular or plural, the typical rule of thumb is that if you say the extra s sound, you put the extra s after the apostrophe.<br /> <br /> For example, in the case of “Phoenix’s buildings,” you would add the s after the apostrophe, even though the letter x makes the s sound because you say the final s. However, in the case of “Mr. Andrews’ briefcase,” you would not add s after the apostrophe because you do not say another s—it is just Mr. Andrews not Mr. Andrewses.<br /> <br /> Remember that the apostrophe is only to show possession or missing letters (except for the clarity exception mentioned above). If there are two or more of something, there is no apostrophe. In that case, only add the correct version of s to make it plural:<br /> <br /> The secretaries sat in a circle (secretaries is plural— there is more than one but they do not own the circle).<br /> <br /> The books were shelved (books—more than one but they do not own the shelf).<br /> <br /> It is not a difficult concept, but something you need to stop and think about. Using an apostrophe incorrectly or not using it at all makes it difficult for the reader to understand what it is you are trying to say and is annoying to people who understand the difference. Take some time to practice. Do a Google search for “apostrophe worksheet” or a similar search. There is a lot of information available to you. Also, make sure to review the Gregg Reference Manual (Section 6 in the 11th edition) for assistance with plurals and possessives. Your apostrophe (and your reader) will be very glad you did.<br /> <br /> <br /> <br />

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