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April 2012 Volume 8 Issue 4

The Write Stuff

April 2012  Volume 8 Issue 4

Let’s Get Possessive

Thank you to the reader who asked me to focus on “possessive apostrophes” in an upcoming newsletter. I see misuse in this area all the time, so here goes.
The Elementary
To transform any singular noun (person, place or thing) into its possessive form, you merely add ‘s:

  • The group’s event
  • Adrienne’s niece and nephew
  • A week’s worth

The Secondary
What about when the noun is plural? This is still pretty straightforward, as you just move the apostrophe to the other side of the s:

  • The two groups’ events
  • Three weeks’ worth
  • The flowers’ scent

The Graduate
How about when the noun ends in an s? This is where things get a bit confusing, since there are two schools of thought with respect to denoting possession:

Option 1–merely add an apostrophe after the s:

  • Illinois’ state constitution
  • The DeGrandis’ dog, Millie

Option 2–add ‘s after the s that’s already there:

  • Illinois’s state constitution
  • The DeGrandis’s dog, Millie

I’m a proponent of Option 1, but many grammar books, including the well-respected Elements of Style, recommend Option 2.

When in doubt, you might consider rewriting the sentence to eliminate the need to show possession, e.g., “the state constitution of Illinois” instead of either  option noted above. You may also decide to use another word when denoting possession via either option seems too clunky. I use “company’s” or “organization’s,” for instance, instead of making “business” possessive.

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