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Apostrophes and False Possessives
In English, nouns become adjectives all the time: a computer’s malfunction is also called a computer malfunction. One of Shakespeare’s plays is a Shakespeare play.
Consider the sentence Beverly Hills’ weather is mild. Like computer’s and Shakespeare’s in the previous
paragraph, Beverly Hills’ is a possessive noun. But we could turn it into an adjective by removing the apostrophe: Beverly Hills weather is mild. Same with Abe Jones’s campaign is picking up steam—we could also say The Abe Jones campaign is picking up steam.
Few would argue with the apostrophe in The Beatles’ place in pop music history is assured. But how would you write this sentence: There are still countless Beatles/Beatles’ fans out there.
Although many would choose Beatles’ fans, it should be Beatles fans—no apostrophe—because the sentence has turned Beatles into an adjective modifying fans rather than a possessive noun.
There are times when the distinction is trivial. There is no significant difference between General Motors cars are selling and General Motors’ cars are selling. But if you were to write We visited the General Motors’ plant in Wentzville, you’d be using a possessive noun where only an adjective should go.
Notice that the four examples above involve the nouns Hills, Jones, Beatles, and Motors. Nouns ending in s can
tempt rushed or distracted writers to add a possessive apostrophe for no good reason. Many writers, including most journalists, add only an apostrophe to
show possession when a proper noun ends in s. On a bad day, this can result in silly phrases like a Texas’ barbecue joint, a Sally Hawkins’ movie, or even the St. Regis’ Hotel, in which the apostrophes are indefensible.
Those who write such things would never dream of writing a Chicago’s barbecue joint, a George Clooney’s movie, or the Fairmont’s Hotel.
So whenever writers are of a mind to add a possessive apostrophe to a noun ending in s, they might first try swapping that word with one that ends
in a different letter. If the result is nonsense, they’ll have ample time to revise the sentence and save themselves some embarrassment.
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Mend any sentences that need fixing.
1. Julie Andrews singing in My Fair Lady was some of her best work.
2. She is a fanatical Rolling Stones’ fan.
3. Nigel takes a Thomas Hobbes’ approach to life.
4. Yolanda Adams music is infectious.
5. It was a Black Keys’ performance for the ages.
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Changes Have Begun on Our GrammarBook.com Website
We want to alert all our newsletter readers and visitors to our website that we have begun updating the English Rules section of GrammarBook.com to reflect the contents of the eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. So far, all of the Grammar Rules have been updated. The remaining revisions will take place over the next couple of months.
We researched the leading reference books on American English grammar and punctuation including The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, Fowler's Modern English Usage, Bernstein's The Careful Writer, and many others. As before, we will provide rules, guidance, and examples based on areas of general agreement among these authorities. Where the authorities differ, we will emphasize guidance and provide options to follow based on your purpose in writing, with this general advice: be consistent.
Following are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
1. Don't abbrev.
2. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
3. Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. Julie Andrews’s singing in My Fair Lady was some of her best work. (some would write Andrews’)
2. She is a fanatical Rolling Stones fan.
3. Nigel takes a Thomas Hobbes approach to life.
4. “Yolanda Adams music,” “Yolanda Adams’s music,” and “Yolanda Adams’ music” would all be acceptable.
5. It was a Black Keys performance for the ages.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.