Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Saturday, November 3, 2012

That ever so tedious misplaced apostrophe

Someone followed me on Twitter recently claiming to write 'Kid's books'.  Now I try so very hard to ignore misplaced apostrophes in the general public, but when a writer demonstrates a lack of understanding of the rules for them, I get a little bit upset.  Especially when they are writing kids' books.  It makes me wonder what standards they are setting for young readers.  So here's a quick lesson on the possessive apostrophe (which seems to be the one that causes most problems) purely for anyone who is confused about the rules.

I used to teach my students a little mantra and make them repeat it by rote every time they wrote an essay (love homophones too!)  for two weeks until they'd fixed it in their minds.  If people will only take the trouble to do this, they will never misuse the possessive apostrophe again.

It goes like this:

The girl's bag
The girls bag.  To find out where the apostrophe goes, you need to ask who does the possessing or owning.  In this case, it is the girl, therefore place the apostrophe after girl = the girl's bag.

The girls bags.  Well, of course it's possible the girl has several bags, but hopefully the context will make that clear.  If we assume there are several girls owning the bags, we ask the same question: Who owns the bags? 

In this case the answer is the girls, therefore, place the apostrophe after girls
= the girls' bags.

Let's try another:

The teachers' meeting

The teachers meeting is in the library. 
Question: Who 'owns' the meeting? Answer: the teachers (very unlikely to be one teacher having a meeting alone) so, place the apostrophe after teachers 
= the teachers' meeting is in the library.

The children's toys

It works exactly the same with plural nouns.

The childrens toys. Question: Who owns the toys?
Answer: the children.  This is already plural but the principle is exactly the same, therefore, place the apostrophe after children
= the children's toys. 


The lady's (or ladies') shoes
The ladys shoes = the lady's shoes (one lady owning more than one shoe)

The ladies shoes = the ladies' shoes (several ladies owning more than one shoe).

So just ask yourself when you write kids books - who are the books for? Answer: the kids - therefore place the apostrophe after kids = kids' books.

Kids' books

It really is that easy.


Robin Kaye said...

Thanks for that. I'm one of those writers who always struggles with where exactly to punctuate. This definitely helped.

ManicScribbler said...

I'm really glad to hear it helped, Robin. We all have our blind spots and sometimes a simple rule can help fix it in our minds.
Good luck and thanks for dropping by.

Kenra Daniels said...

Wow, my 7th grade English teacher used the same little exercise to teach us apostrophes. She had similar exercises for other concepts that were particularly difficult for us to keep straight. My favorite was "A preposition is anywhere a rat can run".

Our school lay in a river flood plain, and we occasionally had backwater standing on the playgrounds. Once in a while, a brave river rat would aspire to education, to the delighted terror of the students, LOL, so we were quite familiar with a rat's running habits.

Mrs. Dye was one of those rare teachers with a talent for putting difficult lessons into everyday contexts her students could understand. Thanks for reminding me of her!


ManicScribbler said...

What a wonderfully colourful picture you paint, Kenra. Mrs Dye sounds like the type of teacher all children would love to have and one who offers a lasting legacy.

I would love to think any of my former students remembered me with such fondness!

Thanks for sharing your story - loved it!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Something I find even more distressing is when any apostrophe is used in straight plural words! And I've seen a few in suprising places.

Christina Carson said...

Always appreciate a grammar refresher. Thank you!

ManicScribbler said...

Yes, Rosemary, I do agree. I think at one point the apostrophe was often referred to as "apostrophe s" and that might be what caused confusion in people's minds. Old habits are quite difficult to shift.
Christina, you are welcome. Thank you both for dropping by.

Jacqueline D. Hopper said...

Refreshers are wonderful things :) Great post!

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