Writing E-Tips
November 2005   
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"If you think that something small cannot make a difference,
try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room."


The Power of Punctuation, Part III

Using Apostrophes in Possessives and Plurals

     Yes, apostrophes are little, but their misuse can destroy your credibility as a writer. Their omission is glaring, their misplacement an embarrassment. Learn to use apostrophes correctly to maintain your scholarly dignity.


Perhaps the greatest confusion with apostrophes comes when forming possessives.

Singular Possessives

Usually singular possessives are made by adding an apostrophe and s.

last quarter's sales          one of Mars's moons

When a singular noun has more than one syllable and ends with an s or z sound, you may use either an apostrophe and s or just an apostrophe. Either way is acceptable.

Kansas' economy     or     Kansas's economy

Plural Possessives

Plural nouns ending in s or es are made possessive by adding just an apostrophe.

many clients' needs          several classes' examinations

If a plural noun does not end in s or es, add both the apostrophe and the s.

the men's department          some children's clothing

Joint Possession

When several people (or things) own one thing, show possession by adding an apostrophe and s to the last noun in the series.

Willa, Bob, and Joel's project

Conversely, if each person in a series owns his or her own thing, add the apostrophe and s to each noun.

Willa's, Bob's, and Joel's projects

Compound Nouns

If the possessive noun is made of two or more parts, add the apostrophe and s to the final word whether the compound noun is singular or plural.

the attorney-at-law's office          the attorneys-at-law's offices


This is a very common misuse of apostrophes. The only time you should use an apostrophe to form a plural is when the noun is a letter, an abbreviation, a number, or a word discussed as a word.

There are three n's in that word.
Seven RN's signed up for the course.
How many 5's are in the final figure?
There are quite a number of therefore's in the contract.

Other than the above exceptions, do not use an apostrophe to make a plural.

There's no trick to apostrophes. Just remember to proofread your writing, and if you are not sure about where to place an apostrophe, check the rules.

The preceding tips are from
Write for Business:
A Compact Guide to Writing
and Communicating

Now available for purchase at http://www.upwritepress.com/products/books_cds.php.


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Coming in the December Issue:
The Power of Punctuation Part IV--Semicolons and Colons

Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating
is available for purchase at 1-800-261-0637 ext. 10,
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