Apostrophe of Possession or Ownership
In written English, by convention, an apostrophe together with an s indicates possession or ownership by a person or animal of an object, idea or quality. The apostrophe must go in the owner noun not in the object that is owned. Every possessive construction must have an s for ease of speaking. The s may already be there because a word already ends in s or you may need to add an s.
Salinger's famous novel
the dog's continual scratching
the student's confusion
the teacher's explanation
Fluffy's loud purr
Many people are placing an apostrophe before the final s at the ends of any words which end in s, including simple, plural nouns. You may have seen this mis-use of the apostrophe in plurals on the fruit display at your local supermarket (in which case I hope you got out your pen and crossed it out) - it's sometimes called "the greengrocer's apostrophe" for this reason.
The possessive construction should not be used with inanimate objects such as in "the room's furnishings" but it frequently is. It is better to say "the furnishings of the room." I'm afraid it is too late to stem the tide, but at least avoid it where possible.
What is a Possessive Construction?
In every possessive construction there must be two nouns together. The first noun is the possessor or owner and has the apostrophe and s and the second noun is the object that the person owns or possesses. The confusion arises because people know that the owner/possesser must end in s but cannot work out where the apostrophe should go in relation to the s. As above, there might be descriptive words between the two nouns: Fluffy and purr are separated by loud, Salinger and novel by famous.
Where to Put the Apostrophe
The following explanation deliberately avoids mention of singulars and plurals because they create unnecessary confusion. The method of deciding where an apostrophe should go is very simple:
1.First find the owner or owners. Ask yourself: To whom does the object belong? If necessary turn the phrase around to work out the owner as in: the plays of Shakespeare, the pelts of the foxes.
2.Place the apostrophe after the owner or owners
3.If necessary, add an s
Shakespeare's plays (Shakespeare is the owner)
Kelly's shoes (Kelly is the owner)
the foxes' pelts (the pelts belonged to the foxes)
If two or more nouns possess something, only the last noun gets the apostrophe:
Homer and Marge's party.
If the two nouns possess separate things, however, they each take an apostrophe:
We'll go in Robert's and Neil's cars.
In hyphenated words, only the last word takes an apostrophe:
my brother-in-law's boat.
There are other clues which help with some possessives: e.g. women's dresses
The apostrophe must go before the s because there is no such word as womens (remember, find the owner or owners and then place the apostrophe.) In other words the owner word must make sense-there cannot be such an owner as a ladie or a fairie because those words don't exist-it would have to be lady and fairy. The whole owner word must come before the apostrophe-the s is only there to make it easier to say and because it is customary.
If it is not possible, in an example you have been given, to work out whether the owner already ends in s or not, then you must use your own judgement, being careful to look for other clues. There could possibly be a Mr Clarks but Mr Clark is more likely. Whiskers could belong to one cat or several cats-check the context.
Try these examples in which the s has already been placed.
Remember the apostrophe must go with the first noun:
1.the bosss daughter
2.my friends house
7.two passengers fares
8.two travellers passports
9.a musicians technique
11.the donkeys tail
12.my cats whiskers
13.the competitors entry
14.the students lockers
15.the maths teachers resources
16.Mr Clarks socks
17.the dogs adventures
18.the foxs trap
19.the fairys wings
20.the girls parent
I think that the apostrophe is so often mis-used that it will eventually die out
altogether-either that or it will be used in every plural, heaven forbid. I tell my students
that they would be right more often if they left it out altogether rather than using it every
time they see an s at the end of a word. Most words end in s because they are nouns in plural form, and no possession is involved.
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