People seem to have a love affair for apostrophes. If a family’s name ends in a vowel, an apostrophe will surely appear: the Martino’s. There is no such entity as “the Martino,” so no ownership exists. The family is simply the Martinos. Easy.
It’s and its is a constant problem. It’s means it is or it has. That’s it. Its indicates possession: The dog wagged its tail. Also easy.
And there are who’s and whose. The apostrophe tells you who’s means who is. Whose is a pronoun indicating ownership: Whose shoes are these? Ricardo is one of three people whose paintings were accepted for publication. Again, easy.
This post isn’t about who owns that crummy bar downtown. It’s about using apostrophes when more than one person owns something (although, we could be talking about that crummy bar). Look at the following sentences:
1. John and Bill’s crummy bar downtown is doing well, despite its location.
Why does only Bill get an apostrophe showing ownership? When two or more people own the same thing, only the last person mentioned gets an apostrophe. That’s the rule.
2. John’s and Bill’s wives are very good friends.
Presumably, John and Bill each has his own wife; they don’t share connubial bliss. Therefore, each man gets his own apostrophe (along with his own wife).
I hope you are familiar with the donation sites that ask you to click every day to support various causes (breast cancer, autism, hunger, literacy, veterans, and several others). I have been clicking for years. You can click on all of them in under a minute and can even select having a reminder sent to you daily. The causes are supported by various businesses; you are not required to pay anything—just a click a day.
I have to admit, my heart sank when I got to the diabetes site today. This was the welcoming message:
Does no one proofread? Does no one understand that most words ending in S are merely plurals, not possessives? Are these rhetorical questions?
Despite my curmudgeonly reaction to the errant apostrophe, I still do encourage you to support these causes daily; it will take only one minute of your time.
What do you write when two or more people possess the same thing? Do you use an apostrophe for each of their names or just one apostrophe?
“John and Serena’s car is a bright red.” By using the apostrophe only in Serena’s name, you are signaling that John and Serena both own that car. Use a possessive apostrophe only in the owner’s name closest to the item.
If each one of them owns a separate car, use possessive apostrophes for both owners: “John’s and Serena’s cars have adjacent parking spots in the office garage.”
Every year on this date, I think perhaps I won’t be annoyed the next year with missing or errant apostrophes in the name of the holiday, that people will catch on to the correct punctuation. But how can they when they see rampant errors in advertising? (I do wonder whether the holiday exists primarily for Macy’s to have a sale on towels and bedding.)
Today I have seen PRESIDENTS DAY, PRESIDENT’S DAY and PRESIDENTS’ DAY. Which is it? This is simple. Obviously, the name is a possessive. Just decide how many presidents the day belongs to. If it were on Lincoln’s or Washington’s birthday, it would be PRESIDENT’S. But since the day is in memory of both Lincoln and Washington, the apostrophe goes after the final S: PRESIDENTS’.
When deciding where a possessive apostrophe needs to go, ask yourself whom the item belongs to. Think of the apostrophe as an arrow pointing to the owner word. Then add APOSTROPHE S. If the new word you’ve formed ends in two or three esses (weird word), just drop the final S. It’s not wrong to leave it, but the trend is toward eliminating it:
Three dogs’s tails——-> three dogs’ tails
My boss’s memos——–> my boss’ memos (pronounced “bosses,” which happens to be the plural of boss)
No one has trouble making a dog possessive: the dog’s collar. Even more than one dog isn’t confusing: the dogs’ collars. But a few situations make people scratch their heads:
What if the possessive word ends in a vowel? How do you make the name Garcia possessive? Just add ‘s to whatever the owner word is: José Garcia’s house.
What if the owner word ends in an S, such as Garcias? Again, whatever the owner word is, add ‘s: the Garcias’ house. However, when you add that ‘s and the new possessive word ends in two or three esses, the preference today is definitely to remove that extra S: the bus’ doors, my boss’ desk.
What if the possessive word ends in Z? Again, add ‘s: Julia Martinez’s office.
Here is the apostrophe rule distilled for you:
No matter what the word is you want to make possessive, take that owner word and add an apostrophe and an S. Then, if the new word now ends in two or three esses, drop the S after the apostrophe. It’s that simple.
One caveat: Don’t reach deep into your apostrophe pocket and throw one in where it isn’t needed. Ask yourself if the word is just a plural: The Garcias are moving. Eggplants are on sale. Sarah has two bosses.