Grammar Hammer: Apostrophes After “-S”

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Don't let apostrophes get you down. (Image by Tanya Hart/Flickr; used under CC-by-SA 2.0)

Don’t let apostrophes get you down. (Image by Tanya Hart; used under CC-by-SA 2.0)

My boss and I recently debated the proper use of the apostrophe when the word you’re adding it to ends in “-s” or “-es” (for the record, his last name ends in -es).

To my surprise, I was unable to find a single resource willing to make a definitive statement on this.

As we touched upon in our “Punctuation Saves Lives” series, an apostrophe is used to indicate possession. With a singular noun you simply add an apostrophe plus the letter “s” to the end of the word. Example: “I wanted to borrow Sarah’s scarf to match my outfit.” The scarf belongs to Sarah. It is Sarah’s scarf.

With plural nouns or proper nouns ending in “-s,” the protocol gets a bit hazy. Let’s say I wanted to borrow a snow blower belonging to the Jones family. (It has snowed so much in Cleveland this winter!) Is it:

  • I’m going to borrow the Jones’s snow blower? Or
  • I’m going to borrow the Jones’ snow blower?

Since there appears to be no clear cut answer, here are a couple rules of thumb you can use to decide:

  1. Add an apostrophe + s (‘s) to common nouns ending in “s” but only add the apostrophe to proper nouns ending in “s.”
  2. If the plural noun ends in “s”, only add the apostrophe (“the girls’ toys”). The AP Style Manual makes the same recommendation if the noun is a common noun or a proper noun.
  3. Write the word as you would speak it, advises The Blue Book of Grammar: “For example, since most people saying, ‘Mr. Hastings’ pen’ would not pronounce an added s, we would write Mr. Hastings’ pen with no added s. But most people would pronounce an added s in ‘Jones’s,’ so we’d write it as we say it: Mr. Jones’s golf clubs. This method explains the punctuation of for goodness’ sake.”

My best recommendation is to pick a preference and stick with it.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

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Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire. A version of this blog post originally appeared on Beyond PR

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