Punctuation Quiz #25: Possessive Apostrophes

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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One use of the apostrophe is to form the possessive case of nouns and indefinite pronouns. Add apostrophes to show possession as needed in the following sentences.

1. All my friends and I gather at the Joneses house every Christmas Eve.

2. We celebrated JFKs life on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

3. Everyones opinion is important.

4. Carol and Janettes room is to the left of my room.

5. Philip didn’t understand my directions to the store.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: All my friends and I gather at the Joneses house every Christmas Eve.
Correct : All my friends and I gather at the Joneses’ house every Christmas Eve.

For a plural ending in s, x, or z add only an apostrophe to show possession.

2.
Original: We celebrated JFKs life on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.
Correct : We celebrated JFK’s life on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

Initials are treated like single nouns that show possession by adding an apostrophe followed by an s.

3.
Original: Everyones opinion is important.
Correct : Everyone’s opinion is important.

Everyone is an indefinite pronoun and follows the general rule for showing possession.

4.
Original: Carol and Janettes room is to the left of my room.
Correct : Carol and Janette’s room is to the left of my room.

The singular verb is shows that Carol and Janette share one room. When a compound noun refers to something possessed in common, only the second noun shows possession. If Carol and Janette possessed different rooms, each name would be in the possessive case: Both Carol’s and Janette’s rooms are upstairs.

5.
Original: Philip didn’t understand my directions to the store.
Correct : Philip didn’t understand my directions to the store.

No apostrophe is needed before the s in directions because the word does not show possession; it is simply a plural noun.

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10 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #25: Possessive Apostrophes”

  • Ray Thomson

    Switch sentence around. Works most times.

    1. All my friends and I gather at the Joneses house every Christmas Eve.

    All my friends gather at the house of the Joneses. (Insert apostrophe after Joneses.)

    2. We celebrated JFKs life on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

    We celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the death of JFK. (Insert apostrophe after JFK.)

    3. Everyones opinion is important.

    The opinion of everyone is important. (Insert apostrophe after everyone.)

    4. Carol and Janettes room is to the left of my room.

    The room of Carol and Janette is to the left of my room. (Insert apostrophe after Janette.)

    5. Philip didn’t understand my directions to the store.

    As stated, ‘directions’ is a common or garden plural noun, so no apostrophe required.

    With apologies to those unperplexed by the possessive apostrophe issue.

  • TheBluebird11

    @Ray: I am among the unperplexed but fail to see how your analysis makes anything clearer to those who are.
    To me there is no confusing a plural with a possessive, even if one is dealing with a plural possessive.
    But alas I’m not perfect. Other stuff confuses me.

  • venqax

    I am with bluebird. I don’t see how Ray Thomson’s (whew!) rewrites help or are relevant. They are very awkwardly worded and miss the whole point which is how to handle possessives, not how to avoid them.

    If a thing does not have being awkward as a concern of that thing, the thing, when worded, can always be re-worded with words that, differently worded, are there, too, but not at least so much.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with Ray Thompson completely,
    and I add that many people seem to have been inoculated against prepositional phrases!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Plural words that end in “x” ???
    Could you possibly mean “chateaux”?
    We do not need that one in English, and chateaus works fine.
    We do not need “chevaux”, either.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The word “reworded” is not hyphenated.
    Words with the prefixes “re” and “pre” very rarely need hyphens, and not even reenter, reentry, preempt, and preemption.
    Dispose of all unneeded hyphens and dashes!

  • Dale A. Wood

    “The monetary system of the United States”
    “The education system of the United States”
    Don’t dare try to make “United States” into a possessive.

  • venqax

    I have to agree that I don’t know what is meant by “…a plural ending in s, x, or z…” I don’t know of any plurals in English ending in x or z.

    What is the matter with the United States’ references being made as possessives?

  • D.A.W.

    “What is the matter with the United States’ references being made as possessives?”
    To begin with, the United States is not a living being, and hence it is not capable of possessing anything.
    A valid example is “The alligator’s hide is very thick and rough.” “Likewise, the hide of the venqax…”
    Furthermore, “United States” is a phrase in the category of “plural in construction but grammatically singular”. Hence, you would have to write “the United States’s”, which is extremely awkward.
    The word “excess” is one of many words that are
    “plural in construction but grammatically singular”. Also, we would never want to see “excess’s”.
    Those excesses of the Tsar and the Tsarina are just too much to tolerate!

  • Phil Radler

    As usual, venqax is right (“What is the matter with the United States’ references being made as possessives?”). And by extension, DAW is wrong. To be really precise, the usage shown is the genitive case, which has seven functions—with possession being just one of them. (See Chicago Manual of Style Online, 17th ed., for the gory details.) And to correct DAW’s next error, here’s the specific rule from CMOS section 7.20:
    “When the singular form of a noun ending in s is the same as the plural (i.e., the plural is uninflected), the possessives of both are formed by the addition of an apostrophe only . . . ”
    CMOS goes on to say
    “The same rule applies when the name of a place or an organization or a publication (or the last element in the name) is a plural form ending in s, such as the United States, even though the entity is singular.”
    And look at their first example:
    • the United States’ role in international law

    DAW is also wrong about “excess” (which has a natural inflected plural, excesses), but that’s a tale for another time.

    Conclusion: Game, set, match to venqax.

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