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The Apostrophe Unmasked! (Guest Post)

The apostrophe has two main functions.

The first is to show omission of letters and the second is to show possession, which is what we’ll look at here.

Using the apostrophe to indicate possession

It’s easy when you write about the dog’s dinner; the man’s stunningly beautiful wife, Lavinia; Lavinia’s personal trainer, Lars, and so on.

It starts to get tricky (for Lavinia’s husband and for us) when we get to Lars. Is Lavinia Lars’ best client? Could it be that she is Lars’s ticket to that new Porsche he’s had his eye on for some time?

If he was plain old Bill there wouldn’t be a problem — she would be Bill’s best client and the ticket to Bill’s new Porsche.

We’ll assume (rightly, as it happens) that Lavinia is a Lady Who Lunches, and when she does lunch with her friends, they visit a women’s club. It’s not a womens’ club. When a word is made plural by changing some of its interior bits, you don’t make it doubly plural in the possessive.

When a word ends in ‘s’ and an additional syllable is pronounced in the possessive, add apostrophe S (even if you end up with 3 s’s). So you’d have the ladies going to their tennis class before lunch, and Lavinia being very chuffed when her coach, Mr Harris, told her she was the class’s best player. Although it’s difficult to know whether Mr Harris’s opinion is very reliable — he’s a push-over for a pretty face and a flash of a shapely thigh.

When writing about joint ownership, possession is shown only on the last noun, but where individual ownership exists, possession is shown on each noun.

Lavinia and her husband’s new yacht was the venue for a fancy-dress party.

Lavinia’s and Raoul’s sailor suits were a hit with their guests.

T’riffic Tip

The very best way to remember when to use the possessive apostrophe — in any circumstance — is to substitute the word ‘of’ …

The women’s club – the club of the women

Lavinia’s personal trainer – the personal trainer of Lavinia

Her husband’s new yacht – the yacht of her husband

This is also the way you test for those really tricky ones:

three months’ experience – the experience of three months

So, if you’re tempted to use an apostrophe but you can’t substitute “of” … then leave it out!

Banana’s only $2 kilo – the … of … bananas, kilos? … @#!

All these shop’s sell clothes – the … of … shops, clothes? … @#!

OK … you get the message. Don’t just whack in an apostrophe every time you end a word with S!

About the Author: Jennifer Stewart is a freelance writer whose site, http://www.write101.com has been helping people solve their writing problems since 1998. Visit now to read numerous articles on how to write well — for profit or pleasure — and sign up for your free Writing Tips: mailto: WritingTips -subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Originally Posted at http://www.write101.com, July 13, 2001