• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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James’ bag or James’s bag: Indicating ownership with the apostrophe

James’ bag or James’s bag: Indicating ownership with the apostrophe

The punctuation mark called the apostrophe (’) is one of the most important symbols in English language. It performs three major functions, with the first bordering on pluralisation. For instance:

1. Underline the f’s and circle the q’s.

2. These are my do’s and don’ts.

Secondly, it functions as an indicator of an omission or a contraction (int’l and don’t). Its third and supremely important function is the depiction of ownership, which many users of English find difficult to grasp, especially in writing. Mercifully, this treatise will cast light on the rules governing the usages of the apostrophe to indicate ownership, alongside other core uses.

Fundamentally, the apostrophe is used when assigning possession to singular nouns that do not end in ‘s’, as seen in examples such as: Kunle’s book, Femi’s bag and Juliet’s bracelet. As a corollary to that, a singular noun that ends in ‘s’ could either attract the apostrophe alone or an apostrophe that is succeeded by ‘s’. This reinforces the appropriateness of: James’/James’s wallet, Julius’/Julius’s singlet and Thomas’/Thomas’s girlfriend. While the former option sounds more natural, especially in spoken English, the latter alternative reflects grammatical aesthetics. The choice is, therefore, an open one for language users. However, the nouns in this category should not be mistaken for those ones that contain two s’s — one in the middle and another at the end. Nouns in this category attract only the apostrophe without ‘s’. Representative examples are ‘Jesus’ and ‘Moses’, and their usage is exemplified below:

3. Christians pray in Jesus name (incorrect).

Christians pray in Jesus’s name (incorrect).

Christians pray in Jesus’ name (correct).

4. Moses’ assets are worth 900 million dollars (correct).

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Although some users have made a case for the correctness of Moses’s and Jesus’s, it is advisable to keep clear of these orthographic representations because their pronunciations sound really awkward. Having considered singular nouns, it is essential to school you in the use of plural nouns with the apostrophe. When a plural noun ends in ‘s’, it takes the apostrophe alone to indicate ownership, as portrayed in the ensuing noun phrases: boys’ bags, ladies’ wear and firefighters’ hazmat suits.

In the case of plural nouns that do not end in ‘s’, an apostrophe and an ‘s’ are used to indicate possession. Quintessential examples include: Children’s Day, men’s shoes and women’s hats. Remarkably, there are other peculiar usages of the apostrophe, such as ascribing ownership of a single item to a group of people. When this is the case, the last person to be mentioned reflects the apostrophe for collective ownership. This is made abundantly clear in the example sentences below:

5. The company is Kunle’s, Femi’s and Tayo’s (incorrect).

The company is Kunle, Femi and Tayo’s (correct).

Contrariwise, if different persons own their entities severally, all of the names will reflect the ownership thus:

6. These manufacturing concerns are Kunle’s, Femi’s and Tayo’s (correct).

Furthermore, be mindful of the reality that ownership can exist within another ownership. When this occurs, every instance of ownership is apostrophised, as illustrated below:

7. This is my father favourite worker child’s school (incorrect).

This is my father’s favourite worker’s child’s school (correct).

Interestingly, too, it is of critical importance to apostrophise any noun that precedes the noun ‘sake’.

8. This administration should prudently invest in human capital development, for posterity sake (incorrect).

This administration should prudently invest in human capital development, for posterity’s sake (correct).

9. For goodness sake, stop spanking these children (incorrect)!

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For goodness’ sake, stop spanking these children (correct)!

10. The class was split into four groups, for convenience sake (incorrect).

The class was split into four groups, for convenience’/convenience’s sake (correct).

11. For correctness’ sake, the apostrophe should be used with pinpoint accuracy (correct).

12) For God sake, stop prying into Hannah’s private affairs (incorrect).

For God’s sake, stop prying into Hannah’s private affairs (correct).

Additionally, the apostrophe will prove consequential when indicating the timescales of uncountable nouns. Classic examples are:

12. These vaccines are products of a seven-year research (incorrect).

These vaccines are products of seven years’ research (correct).

13. Greg was sentenced to a nine-year imprisonment (incorrect).

Greg was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment (correct).

14. Mr. Davidson was given a one-month paternity leave (incorrect).

Mr. Davidson was given a/one week’s paternity leave (correct).

15. I have a nine-year experience in civil engineering (incorrect).

I have nine years’ experience in civil engineering (correct).

16. God willing, I shall be awarded a PhD in two years’ time (correct).

Other miscellaneous usages of the apostrophe include:

17. I bought three thousand naira worth of comestibles (incorrect).

I bought three thousand naira’s worth of comestibles (correct).

18. The convalescent child had a good night sleep (incorrect).

The convalescent child had a good night’s sleep (correct).

To round off this treatise, some expositions will be made on the use of the apostrophe in idiomatic expressions. First off, a place that is in close proximity to somewhere else is said to be a ‘stone’s throw’; not ‘a stone throw’. Secondly, a very long period of time is idiomatically expressed as ‘donkey’s years’; not ‘donkey years’.

Achieving finesse in language use is a function of paying meticulous attention to the minutest grammatical detail. Hence, if well internalised, this piece will upscale your level of eloquence.