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Confusing Possessives

The Chicago Manual of Style lists the following holidays as singular possessives: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. Plural possessive is used for Presidents’ Day.

Your guess is as good as anyone’s about Secretary’s vs. Secretaries’ vs. Secretaries Day and Boss’s vs. Bosses’ vs. Bosses Day.

What would you do if we had a Children’s Day holiday? Because Children is an irregular plural (not formed by adding an s or es), you would have to use the apostrophe in the title because there is no such word as Childrens.

Example: Children’s Hospital

Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008, at 7:00 pm


85 Comments

85 Responses to “Confusing Possessives”

  1. Susan Hackett says:

    This could be mother’s club if my mother had a club of her own.

  2. Scott says:

    Thank you so much for this blog and the grammar website. When I started posting on our blog site, I realized how much grammar I had forgotten. (Did use that comma properly? No, seriously, did I? You have ruined my life but in a good way! Thanks so much.

    Scott

  3. Jane says:

    Susan, you are correct.
    Scott, happy to have ruined your life in a good way. Yes, you used the comma properly!

  4. Jane says:

    If you look at the Apostrophe section of http://www.grammarbook.com, you’ll see that “Dennis’s stepmother” would be the preferred answer.

  5. Jo Ann says:

    Where does the apostrophe go when proper names end in s? Dennis’s stepmother, Peggy. Or should it be Dennis’ stepmother, Peggy.

  6. Mandy says:

    I am cataloguing a collection of uniforms. One may have belonged to a particular person, another is a stock example. I must head each entry with an object name. After reading your section on the apostrophy, I think each entry should be “Woman’s Uniform”. Is using the singular form correct, even though the uniform applies to the dress of all women in the service?

  7. April says:

    Alright, I just finished reading the latest email from you which informed me that class (singular) would be class’s in the possessive. For example: The Spanish class’s grades were exemplary. That is to say that a single Spanish class has good grades. Now in the paragraph about the club for Moms, I see ‘Mothers’ Club’ with no ‘s’ after the apostrophe. What is the difference? Is it that mother doesn’t already end in ‘s’?

  8. Jane says:

    Mandy, I would still use “Women’s Uniforms.”
    April, Yes, it’s “Mothers’ Club” without another “s” because “Mother” does not have an “s” in it. The rule, which you will find in the apostrophe section of http://www.grammarbook.com, is actually simple:
    Use the apostrophe and then the “s” for singular possession.
    For plural possession, form the plural of the word first, then use the apostrophe. If the word does not form a plural by adding an “s,” such as “women,” then after you add the apostrophe, you will also need to add an “s.”
    Examples: one mother’s children v. two mothers’ children
    one woman’s children v. two women’s children

  9. ravi bedi says:

    Officer’s mess or the officers’ mess. Lovers’ Rock or the Lover’s rock? Personally I will use …Officers’ mess. What do you say?

  10. Jane says:

    Officers’ mess or officers mess without using the possessive. Definitely not officer’s mess as we don’t mean one officer.
    Lovers’ Rock for the same reason.

  11. Debbie says:

    Then Mothers Day would be just as correct as Mothers’ Day or Mother’s Day?

  12. Jane says:

    Yes. Mothers Day may be written without the possessive. Also, some people think of Mother’s Day as the singular possessive; others argue that we should write Mothers’ Day to show plural possession.

  13. Lindsay says:

    I’m pretty sure the following sentence needs an apostrophe, but I’m not completely confident, because the thing Chicago is possessing comes before–not directly after. What is the rule on this?

    …”Lake Michigan, one of Chicagos most beautiful lakes.”

    And, what is the rule about “of,” if one writes, “the lives of cats and dogs,” an apostrophe is not needed, right?

    Thanks so much for your help.

  14. Jane says:

    Yes, use the apostrophe for: Lake Michigan, one of Chicago’s most beautiful lakes
    No, don’t use the apostrophe for: the lives of cats and dogs

  15. Lindsay says:

    One more little apostrophe question…

    The common phrase “our heart’s desire,” is to my knowledge usually written in this way. But, I’m editing a piece and that phrase is troubling me because the “our” is representing a large group of people. These people all have one “desire” but they have many hearts.

    So is this correct: “our hearts’ desire”?

  16. Jane says:

    It’s okay to say “our heart’s desire” or our hearts’ desires.” I wouldn’t mix the plural possessive with a singular noun following as in “our hearts’ desire.”

  17. Jane says:

    The sentence would be better this way: Some seniors who are unable to visit libraries call to ask about programs and resources offered within their communities.

  18. Liz Jameson says:

    In the following statement, should community be singular or plural? Some seniors who are unable to visit libraries call to ask about programs and resources offered within the community. Would it matter if it said “their community”? Thanks!
    Liz

  19. Cassie Tuttle says:

    So relieved to hear that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to some of these confusing possessives …. But I’m equally glad that CMOS does give us some guidance. Now I can go ahead and firm up my menu for NEW YEAR’S DAY.

    Thanks, Jane!

  20. Jane says:

    Yes, you can!

  21. Liz Jameson says:

    Which is correct? “The counselor may assess you and your husband’s health insurance coverage.” OR “The couselor may assess your and your husband’s health insurance coverage”? I think it’s “your” because this sentence refers to two different coverage plans for two individuals. It makes sense to me that if I were talking about the couple’s joint home insurance, I would then say “you and your husband’s coverage.” Am I correct? Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      Corrrect: The counselor may assess your and your husband’s health insurance coverage.
      Even if this were only one coverage rather than separate ones, it would be confusing to write, “The counselor may assess you…” To be very clear that separate coverages are being assessed, you may want to write, “The counselor may assess your health insurance coverage as well as your husband’s.

  22. Lauren says:

    Which possessive prounoun should be used:
    He touched mine/my and Ruby’s hands.
    You wouldn’t want to say Our, if you wanted to be specific about the other person. Neither sounds correct. Help!

  23. Jane says:

    Since you and Ruby don’t co-own hands, it’s better to write, “He touched my hand and Ruby’s hand.”

  24. Shaun says:

    If you’re interested in putting the apostrophe back in its place you might like this very funny youtube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc2aSz9Ficw and related iPhone app called The Apostrophe Song

  25. Monica says:

    Here’s one: I belong to a group. Historically, it has been called the MoM’s group (Mothers of Munchkins.) I wonder if this should really be Moms’ Group (or MoMs’ group) since it refers to many mothers. What’s your take?

  26. Alice says:

    In India, there is a Children’s Day, which is usually a holiday for schools.

  27. Darryl says:

    Hi I’ve just finished reading some of your lessons on apostrophes; I don’t get it all the way as if, “apostrophes, apostrophe’s or apostrophes’ ” should be used usually when you are talking about more than one thing? For example :

    (1) Apostrophe’s can be hard to learn.
    (2) Apostrophe can be hard to learn.
    (3) Apostrophes’ can be hard to learn.

  28. sarah kwick says:

    I am getting Christmas cards. They are all signed differently. If a person’s last name is Smith, would they sign “Love the Smiths or Love the Smith’s”

  29. wagner says:

    1. Once I asked my ESL Teacher if it was correct to say “It’s a beautiful summer’s day” The answer was no, you can only say summer day, she said. However, if I can go for a walk on a winter’s day (see California Dreaming Song) why can’t I do the same on a summer’s day?

    • Jane says:

      Just because a word or phrase appears in a song title does not make it correct. That is sometimes the case with creative writing.

  30. Kim says:

    Every time we see you our heart’s fill with pride.
    Is this the proper way to write it?

    • Jane says:

      The word “hearts” does not need an apostrophe since it is not a possessive in this case.
      Every time we see you our hearts fill with pride.

  31. Nicki says:

    Thanks! My aim is to be a writer, but people always act like if I want to write a book I should already know everything about literature. I looked forever on the appropriate use of an apostrophe after a name that ends with ‘s’, but got sick of the complicated answers that said absolutely nothing. So thank you very much for putting up a simple answer with examples anyone could understand.

  32. Jac says:

    Kenzies Mom
    Kenzie’s Mom or Kenzies’ Mom

  33. Hayley says:

    Please could you let me know which is the right way to say secretary in the following:

    If you notice the coffee running low then please let one of the secretaries know so we can order some more.

    Thank you!

  34. BJ says:

    This is actually one of my pet peeves – the misuse of apostrophes! It’s rampant!

    I do have a question, if you could possibly help. I am a transcriptionist, and one of my doctors will say that he will see the patient back “in two weeks time”. Should that be “two weeks’ time” or no apostrophe?

  35. Bennett says:

    I work as the creative director for an electronic greeting card website, and we are perplexed by this question every year when we prep our advertising materials. We usually go with what we see the public most often doing. I guess that is the power and sway of advertising’s tie to public opinion and taste. But then, that is exactly how language changes and grows.

    When I was in school, the plural possessive was uniformly, s’s, ie: Mothers’s (belonging to a group of mothers). But I have observed in the last 20 years the migration by popular use and now touted rule turn to s’ for plural possessive, ie: mothers’

    My final conclusion? English remains one of the most pliable and therefore delightfully confusing languages on Earth! :)

  36. Bennett says:

    I think I typed in error in my last comment! In school, the plural possessive was not, as I claimed, s’s.. rather that was the practice when someone’s name ended in s, as in, “keeping up with the3 Jones’s pace”. Nowadays, we see the rule for the plural possessive, s’, being applied to singular possessives where the word or name ends with s.

    “Keeping up with the Jones’ pace.” Oh, the horror!

    • Jane says:

      Our blog “Apostrophes with Names Ending in s, ch, or z” addresses this in detail. Our rule states, “To show plural possession of a name ending in s, ch, or z, form the plural first; then immediately use the apostrophe.” Therefore, your example should read keeping up with the Joneses’ pace.

      Similarly, our rule for singular possession states, “To show singular possession of a name ending in s, ch, or z, use the apostrophe and another s.” Such an example might be keeping up with Bob Jones’s pace.

  37. Nathalie says:

    I am looking for a specific grammar answer concerning Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the s to show singular possession.

    Can an object like a vehicle show possession, i.e. the vehicle’s key code ? Because anywhere I enter that (Word etc…) I receive a typo error and it is showing me I need to write vehicles key code, the things is that there is only one vehicle and the key code belongs to it!

    Thank you and have a great day.

    • Jane says:

      The same rules that apply to forming the possessive forms of names also apply to objects. The vehicle’s key code is correct. Spellcheck programs are often incorrect.

  38. Craig says:

    I have a question about the use of an apostrophe with a singular noun. My question is in regard to the International Screenwriter’s Association (www.NetworkISA.org). We’ve never had a complaint about the apostrophe s until now. The complaint is that this is not about 1 screenwriter and his or her association, it’s about every screenwriter. We have 60,000 members. Am I incorrect in putting an apostrophe s in the title of the business?

    I really prefer not to keep looking foolish if I’m incorrect. Please help clarify this issue.

    many thanks!

    • Jane says:

      Your first sentence is interesting. Are you implying that you interpret the word in your title as a singular noun? If so, then Screenwriter’s is correct. Looking in from the outside, I would assume that the Association is representing all the screenwriters who have joined the organization, thus it is a plural noun and should be written Screenwriters’.

      There is a little room for interpretation, as we demonstrate in our blog on certain holidays, like Mother’s/Mothers’/Mothers Day. That interpretation is up to you and your organization.

  39. Roland says:

    I’m no expert, but I think that the example for rule 7 on your Apostrophes page should be “my two brothers-in-laws’ hats.” At least, that’s how I interpret the rule.

    • Jane says:

      This is certainly a tricky one. The singular is my brother-in-law and the singular possessive is my brother-in-law’s hat. The plural of this compound noun is my brothers-in-law (not my brother-in-laws nor my brothers-in-laws). Thus, following the rule of forming the plural first and then using the apostrophe, we get: my brothers-in-law’s hats or my two brothers-in-law’s hats.

  40. Christine says:

    I have a quick question. I am writing up a menu for Seniors for a restaurant and i am so confused as to whether i am supposed to use an apostrophe or not. Is it Seniors’ Menu or Senior’s Menu or just Seniors Menu? And another line in the menu states that “All seniors meals come with coffee or tea.” Does this need an apostrophe as well?
    Please help!

    • Jane says:

      If you think of the menu as belonging to the seniors, then you would write Seniors’ Menu. If you think of the word seniors as an adjective describing the word menu, then you would not use an apostrophe. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. “All seniors’/seniors meals come with coffee or tea” should be consistent with how you title the menu.

  41. Tracey says:

    Hi Jane. Would an apostrophe be required in this newspaper article title? UPROAR OVER CLAIMS VICTIMS TO BLAME. The article states that someone (in position of authority) has accused a single victim being responsible for a specific crime committed against her because of her behaviour. Should it therefore read UPROAR OVER CLAIMS VICTIM’S TO BLAME?

    • Jane says:

      It’s not unusual for newspapers to omit words they consider nonessential in titles in order to save space. If, as you explain, one individual is accusing one victim, then the title could be:
      UPROAR OVER CLAIM VICTIM TO BLAME or UPROAR OVER CLAIM VICTIM’S TO BLAME or UPROAR OVER CLAIM VICTIM IS TO BLAME
      However, if there are more than one individual accusing more than one victim, or even one individual making different accusations against more than one victim, then the title could be:
      UPROAR OVER CLAIMS VICTIMS TO BLAME (the original title) or UPROAR OVER CLAIMS VICTIMS ARE TO BLAME

  42. Val says:

    In the sentence, “I’m going to grandma’s.” should there be an apostrophe in “grandma’s” if the word “house” is implied but not stated?

    • Jane says:

      Yes, as implied words and contractions are common in informal spoken and written English. Also, Rule 1 in our blog Kinship Names: To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize? says, “Capitalize a kinship name when it immediately precedes a personal name or is used alone, in place of a personal name.” A formal, grammatically correct sentence could be written “I am going to Grandma’s house.” Or, informally, “I am going to Grandma’s.”

  43. Jennifer says:

    As related to “Grandma’s house” and the Christmas card–how does one properly make a sign for outside their home? Is it the home of The Smiths who live inside, or is it The Smiths’ (as in the unspoken house that would follow?) Most of the time you see The Smith’s on a sign, which is definitely incorrect and always makes my skin crawl.

    • Jane says:

      I interpret that kind of sign to read “The Smiths live here.” It does not need an apostrophe. An argument could be made for “The Smiths’ house,” in which case the apostrophe would come at the end. You are correct that “The Smith’s” is incorrect.

  44. John says:

    The new year doesn’t possess the day or the evening before anymore than say Christmas does. (Merry Christmas’s Eve?), So pedantically speaking it’s “New Year Day” and “New Year Eve”.

    • Jane says:

      If you consult any dictionary you will find that it is always written “New Year’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” with an apostrophe. Likewise, “Christmas Day,” and “Christmas Eve” are grammatically correct. Why this is so is a question for a language historian.

  45. Gloria says:

    Is it correct when I type “Heard all about my children’s day”?

    • Jane says:

      Assuming you are referring to more than one child, your spelling of the possessive form children’s is correct. You just need a subject to make a complete sentence: “I heard all about my children’s day.”

  46. Bob B. says:

    A number of writers are gathering to start a writing group.

    The title?

    Is it a Writers’ Group or a Writers Group?

    Since my days of Greek and the use of the genitive as a possessive case. Transferring this to translating Greek, it was always easiest for me to determine the usage of the apostrophe by mixing the terms up as follows:

    The mascot (noun) of the team (genitive) = the team’s mascot.

    The dolls (noun) of the girl (genitive) = the girl’s dolls.

    The home (noun) of the orphans (genitive) = the orphans’ home.

    The crimes of the cities = the cities’ crimes.

    All over the internet I see Writers Group and not Writers’ Group. Does a title change the practical use of the apostrophe?

    What do you say?

    • Jane says:

      We also like using your method of “mixing the terms up” to determine where to place the apostrophe for possessives. In your case, since you’re forming a group of writers (a group belonging to the writers), we also favor Writers’ Group. However, there’s no denying a trend in some circles toward leaving the apostrophe out (see our blog Confusing Possessives). Perhaps the thinking is that writers is used as an adjective describing the word group, thus justifying not using an apostrophe.

  47. Virginia H. says:

    An apostrophe is not required for “teachers union”. What is the rule?

    • Jane says:

      From The Chicago Manual of Style:

      The line between a possessive or genitive form and a noun used attributively—to modify another noun—is sometimes fuzzy, especially in the plural. Although terms such as employees’ cafeteria sometimes appear without an apostrophe, Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names (often corporate names) that do not use one or where there is clearly no possessive meaning.

      children’s rights
      farmers’ market
      women’s soccer team
      boys’ clubs
      taxpayers’ associations (or taxpayer associations)
      consumers’ group (or consumer group)

      but

      Publishers Weekly
      Diners Club
      Department of Veterans Affairs

  48. Susan says:

    When writing a note, which way is a proper way to state my appreciation?

    It was a pleasure being both your and your brother’s coach.

    or

    It was a pleasure being both your’s and your brother’s coach.

    • Your first option “It was a pleasure being both your and your brother’s coach” is correct, but a bit awkward. You could write “It was a pleasure being a coach for both you and your brother.” Note that yours never has an apostrophe.

  49. Carissa L. says:

    I’m really perplexed by this sentence by whether or not to use the plural possessive in this sentence: The women must get their spouses’ approval. Since women is plural would I need to include the plural of spouse as well, or would it be “spouse’s”?

    Thanks.

  50. Enrique says:

    Hi,
    I recently finished a website for my transportation service for children, but a friend of mine mentioned I shouldn’t have used “Children Transportation Services” on the logo, but “Children’s Transportation Services”. I understand where he’s coming from, but I still think both are correct. Is either one wrong?

    Thanks,
    Enrique

  51. Errol says:

    The best rule to follow when you have to use the apostrophe of possession is to write the name of the owner and then place the apostrophe. If there is an “s” sound write the “s” after the apostrophe. If there isn’t another “s” sound after the apostrophe, leave it alone.

    Examples: children’s books ( first write children, then the apostrophe and an s

    Horses’ tails (you don’t hear another s sound so that’s it)

    James’s car. In this case, you hear another s sound so you add the s.

    I have not read all of the above so I hope I haven’t repeated what someone else has already said!

  52. Errol says:

    Sorry, I don’t see the problem:

    For those who say the “s”

    Illinois’s climate is …..

    For those who don’t say the “s”

    Illinois’ weather is …..

    In this day and age we can’t be too pedantic.

  53. milia says:

    If we write “every moms desire” that make sense?
    Or should i write desire of every mother?

  54. Tarryn says:

    Hi there, I want to find out what the rule is on ‘going to be a grandma again’ or ‘going to be a dad again’. My understanding is that once you are you are- you can’t be it again if you already are. Unless something happened to the first child and they are no longer around.

    Appreciate your feedback on this.

    Thanks, Tarryn

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