Friday, 11 November 2011

More about the apostrophe

Last week we saw that one of the main functions of the apostrophe in English is to indicate possession (e.g. The child's bicycle; David's pen), and that the apostrophe is not used for simple plurals (thus Used car’s for sale and beautiful photo’s are incorrect). If the noun concerned is in the singular, or the plural does not end on s, the apostrophe precedes the possessive s (as in the child’s toy; the children’s toys). If the noun (or name) is in the plural and the plural is formed with -s (not all plurals are, as we’ve just seen with children) no possessive s is added, and an apostrophe is simply inserted after the plural -s (e.g. the ladies' blouses; the Smiths’ car).

How should we indicate possession if a singular noun (or name) ends on s? Simply by adding an apostrophe and a possessive s in the usual way, e.g. the boss's Ferrari; Des's B&B; Tom Jones's diary.

Please note, however, that there are a few names ending on s that have traditionally been treated differently when it comes to indicating possession; in the case of these names we add only an apostrophe, 
instead of an apostrophe plus s according to standard practice. Some of these are names associated with the Bible, specifically Moses and Jesus, the possessive forms of which are Moses' and Jesus' respectively. I'll mention a few more next week. 

How do we indicate possession in the case of the plurals of names like Jones, Charles and Giles, which end on es? First, we need to note that these names are pluralised by adding -es: Joneses, Charleses, Gileses. Possession is then indicated simply by adding an apostrophe after the plural-es, as with any other plural noun/name ending on s – thus: the Joneses' car; the Charleses' house; the Gileses' three children. Nothing difficult about that, one would think, yet I have often seen forms like the Jones’ car and even monstrosities like the Charle's house! Jone’s and Charle’s and Gile's are OK if – and only if – the names concerned are Jone, Charle and Gile!

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