Monday, July 9, 2018

R&R: Raves and Rants For July ~ Perfect Possessives

Amanda is back with July's Raves & Rants.
Perfect Possessives
Welcome back for another rant.

Last month when we talked about apostrophes, I mentioned that one of the primary uses of an apostrophe is to indicate a word’s possessive case.  Since the rules for creating possessives are simple, you might think it would be rare to find errors.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case, which is why I’m ranting about that today. 

I continue to be shocked at the number of incorrect possessives I’ve found in published books.  I know you don’t want your book to be one of those that I’m tempted to hurl against a wall, so let’s talk about the correct way to form possessives.

We’ll start with the simplest rule, the one for single nouns. 

The possessive of a single noun, whether it’s a proper or a common noun, 
is made by appending an apostrophe and an s to that word. 

Did you take note of the last example?  That’s one of the most common errors I find.  Charles is a singular noun, and the rule of adding an apostrophe and an s applies to it.  I grind my teeth every time I read Charles’, which is why I fought and won an argument with one of my editors who hadn’t learned the rule and changed all my Charles’s to Charles’.  I no longer write for that publisher, but that’s another story.

The possessive of plural nouns is almost as simple, although there are two parts to the rule.  
Part One: The possessive of a plural noun that ends in s 
is formed by adding an apostrophe.

Now that you’ve learned this rule, do you find anything wrong with the following sentence?

“We’re having supper at my parent’s house.”
That was a bit of a trick question.  It’s perfectly correct if you have only one parent, but in that case, wouldn’t you be more likely to say “my mother’s” or “my father’s” rather than “my parent’s”?  This is another error that I find far too often.

On to the second part of the plural noun rule.  
The possessive of a plural noun that does not end in s 
is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s.

In other words, since there’s no final s, you form the plural the same way you would for a singular noun.

You wouldn’t say childrens, would you?  I hope not.  I don’t like ranting, and that would definitely provoke one.

I’ve talked about misplaced and misused apostrophes, but there’s another side to this problem.  Here are two examples I found in recent reading.  (I’ve changed the wording slightly to protect the guilty.)

“Rather than face Mrs. Dobbs anger, she closed the door softly.”
“The same people were present at the Sartors today.”

What’s wrong with these?  Congratulations if you noticed that they were both missing apostrophes.  Perhaps these were nothing more than typos, but I suspect that the authors weren’t sure how to make the possessive and decided to err on the side of no apostrophe.  Wrong decision!

How would you correct them?  Did you say, “Rather than face Mrs. Dobbs’s anger …” since there is only one Mrs. Dobbs, and “present at the Sartors’” because we’re dealing with a plural noun there?  If so, double congratulations. 

And on that note, I’m going to end this rant.  I hope you’ll come back next month when we’ll address the troublesome twos.

~ Amanda

A lifetime of reading and writing, not to mention a host of teachers who believed that good grammar was one of the essentials of life, have given Amanda Cabot such firm opinions about the printed word that I asked her to share some with us in her Raves and Rants posts.  Although her working career was in Information Technology, Amanda achieved her dream of selling her first novel before her thirtieth birthday and is now the author of more than thirty novels as well as a number of books and articles for Information Technology professionals.  Her most recent release is A Borrowed Dream, the second of the Cimarron Creek trilogy.

Find all of Amanda's books, newsletter info and social media links here.


  1. Hi Amanda, welcome back. I’ve been known to use a smattering of Hopkinses’ etc. in the past. Ugh.

    Great post. I’m printing of each one and putting them into my grammar notebook🙂

    Hugs, L.A.

    1. A grammar notebook sounds like a good idea. I wonder how many others will follow your lead.

  2. Great post, Amanda. I try to watch my apostrophes carefully. I definitely don’t want you to hurl my books against a wall 😃

    1. Jill -- The rules are so simple that I can't understand why I see so many mistakes, but I do. And, no, I haven't tossed any of your books against the wall.

  3. Amanda, the possessive wars go forth. I don't think a high school English teacher could make it any cleaner or clearer. Great work.

    1. I'm glad you found this post clear, Marilyn. Didn't Leslie do a great job with the graphics? She's so artistic.