Blog/Grammar tips
4 December 2023
3 min read

Understanding Plural Apostrophes: Simplifying a Tricky Grammar Rule

The plural apostrophe, often a source of confusion in English grammar, is crucial for indicating possession in writing. Misusing it can lead to misunderstandings or, at the very least, detract from the clarity and professionalism of your text. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the plural apostrophe, providing detailed explanations, examples, and tips to ensure you use it correctly and confidently in any context.

Understanding Plural Apostrophes

The plural apostrophe is used to show possession for nouns that are in their plural form. The placement of this tiny punctuation mark can significantly change the meaning of a phrase, making its correct usage vital.

Plural Nouns Ending in 'S'

When a plural noun ends in 's', indicating possession is straightforward: simply add an apostrophe after the 's'. This rule is consistent and easy to apply.

  • Example: "The teachers' lounge" implies that the lounge is used by multiple teachers, whereas "The teacher's lounge" would imply it belongs to one teacher.

Plural Nouns Not Ending in 'S'

For plural nouns that do not naturally end in 's', such as "children" or "women", you add an apostrophe followed by 's' to create the possessive form.

  • Example: "The children's playground" clearly indicates that the playground is intended for the children.

Regular vs. Irregular Plurals

Regular plurals typically end in 's' and follow the first rule. However, English has many irregular plurals that do not end in 's', and these follow the second rule.

  • Example: "The men's department" shows possession by men, an irregular plural noun.

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Applying Plural Apostrophes in Various Writing Scenarios

In Personal and Informal Writing

In less formal writing, such as texts, emails, or social media posts, using plural apostrophes correctly can add a layer of sophistication and prevent misinterpretations.

  • Example: "We're going to the Smiths' barbecue this weekend." This shows that the barbecue is hosted by the Smith family.

In Academic and Professional Writing

In more formal contexts, the correct use of plural apostrophes is crucial. It demonstrates attention to detail and a strong grasp of English grammar, which can lend credibility to your academic or professional writing.

  • Example: "During the CEOs' conference, several important decisions were made." This indicates a conference attended by multiple CEOs.

In Creative Writing

For creative writers, mastering plural apostrophes allows for precise descriptions and can enhance the readability of your narrative.

  • Example: "The pirates' treasure was rumored to be buried deep beneath the island." This suggests that the treasure belongs to a group of pirates.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

  1. Plurals vs. Possessives: Remember, apostrophes are not used to make words plural. "Buses" is the plural of "bus", not "bus's".
  2. Correct Placement: Ensure the apostrophe is correctly placed to convey the intended meaning. "The kids' toys" (belonging to multiple kids) vs. "The kid's toys" (belonging to one kid).
  3. Consistency: Be consistent in your use of plural apostrophes throughout your writing to maintain clarity and professionalism.

Summary and Key Takeaways

The plural apostrophe is a small but significant aspect of English punctuation. It’s essential for indicating possession in plural nouns. Remember, for nouns that are plural and end in 's', add only an apostrophe. For those that are plural but don’t end in 's', add apostrophe 's'.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I handle names ending in 's' in their plural form?

For plural names ending in 's', like "the Harrises", add an apostrophe at the end: "The Harrises' house."

What about plural possessive forms of proper nouns?

For proper nouns, follow the same rules: if the plural form ends in 's', add only an apostrophe; if not, add apostrophe 's'.

Is it ever correct to use an apostrophe before the 's' in plurals?

No, an apostrophe before the 's' is typically used for singular possessive forms, not plural.

Can I use plural apostrophes with acronyms?

Yes. For example, "Several NGOs' efforts were recognized."

How do I handle compound plural possessives?

For compound nouns, add the apostrophe 's' to the last word: "My brothers-in-law's business."

Conclusion

Understanding and correctly using plural apostrophes is key to effective communication in written English. It adds a level of precision and professionalism to your writing, whether it's a casual email or a formal report.

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