Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

The possessive apostrophe. Part 1 – the basics

with 8 comments

Keep dog on a lead

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

The possessive apostrophe is the little squiggle (’) that shows someone or something belongs to someone or something else. The rules are simple.

If one dog owns a purple dog lead, the apostrophe comes before the s:

The dog’s lead is purple.

If two or more dogs have purple leads, the apostrophe comes after the s:

The dogs’ leads are purple.

If one family has a very big house, the apostrophe comes before the s:

The family’s house is very big.

If two or more families have very big houses, the apostrophe comes after the s:

The families’ houses are very big.

If one building has just had new windows installed, the apostrophe comes before the s:

The building’s windows are new.

If more than one building has had the work done, the apostrophe comes after the s:

The buildings’ windows are new.

The apostrophe and decades

The apostrophe and initialisms

The apostrophe and irregular plural nouns (e.g. ‘children’s toys’)

Charles’ crown or Charles’s crown?

User-friendly guides to punctuation

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8 Responses

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  1. Hello.

    I came across this blog via the Journalism.co.uk forum where I post regularly. And boy am I glad I did! This issue of this possessive apostrophe was bugging me and some internet articles baffled me so this very much explained things in plain English.

    Having revisted my blog after this blog post of yours, I’ve gone through briefly to my last article to see about any potential errors. Example: http://sensasionalsport.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/uniteds-twin-brazilians-save-ferguson-from-an-unwanted-headache/

    Now in the first paragraph, I’ve put manager’s. If I followed your post, it would become managers and that could make the word plural which I don’t want. Any brief advice whether on my blog, I’m doing it right in terms the possessive apostrophe?

    And also, does the same rule apply for words such as that’s/thats?

    Aky

    05/05/2011 at 6:28 pm

    • Hi! Thanks for dropping by – I’m glad you found the posts useful. Your blog looks good and I very much like its title (Sheesh Kebab Talk).

      Re. your questions:

      There is nothing wrong with this sentence on your blog:

      A major dilemma is brought to a football manager’s mind… (The mind belongs to the manager and therefore the possessive apostrophe is required.)

      If you wanted to talk about more than one manager, the sentence would become:

      A major dilemma is brought to football managers’ minds

      In relation to “that’s”, this is simply short for “that is”. (The apostrophe in this case denotes the fact that the “i” is missing.) I cannot think of any use for the word “thats” except to refer to more than one “that”. I can’t imagine you’d ever need to do that!

      I had a quick look at some of your other posts. In your January archive you have, for example, the following heading:

      Sky Sports News fails in it’s job as a NEWS station over the sexism furore

      That “it’s” should be “its”.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to ask about any other examples from your blog. As I say — it looks good!

      Deborah

      05/05/2011 at 7:06 pm

      • Thank you Deborah – first of all for complimenting the name of my blog which has aroused confusion but I was going for something random!

        But thank you for browsing my blog. I am going to browse myself and point out any questions for yourself if that is ok.

        Finally, I thank you for this blog, I have a feeling its going to be a life saver for me!

        Aky

        06/05/2011 at 6:44 pm

        • Hi, Aky — you’re very welcome, and thanks for your kind words.

          Feel free to drop by again if you have any other queries and I’ll do my best to help!

          Deborah

          06/05/2011 at 6:50 pm

          • Hi Deborah. I recently made a blog post reflecting on the life of Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros who sadly passed away last weekend. From this, another website (with my knowledge) posted my post onto their website. And just when I was reading it over, I came across this:

            “Ballesteros’ passing has left an undeniable legacy that will forever be etched into European and world golf’s folklore”.

            When it comes to the word golf’s that I’ve put in that sentence, am I right in saying it should have been written golfs? But if I did it the latter, it seems and feels incorrect!

            Help please?

            Aky

            11/05/2011 at 6:31 pm

            • This “It’s/Its” rule is maybe confusing as words have the ‘s attached at the end are getting me intrigued and thinking if it’s right or wrong. Is the “It’s/Its” rule only affecting those two words or any word which has the ‘s at the end of it?

              Aky

              11/05/2011 at 6:45 pm

              • I’m not sure, but I think some of your confusion is arising from the fact that there are two types of apostrophe:

                Possessive apostrophes
                Apostrophes used to denote a missing letter (or letters)

                The possessive apostrophe is explained here.

                In words such as those listed below, the apostrophe is used to show that a letter has been taken out:

                That’s (short for ‘that is’)
                It’s (short for ‘it is’)
                What’s (short for ‘what is’ — or ‘what has’)
                Who’s (short for ‘who is’ — or ‘who has’)

                Feel free to ask more questions! I’m very happy to help if I can.

                Deborah

                11/05/2011 at 7:36 pm

            • Hi, Aky!

              First of all, congratulations on having your post published on another website.

              Your version (golf’s) is correct. This is because the folklore ‘belongs’ to the golf, and therefore the possessive apostrophe is required.

              Deborah

              11/05/2011 at 7:23 pm


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