Apostrophes do not exist in every language, so it can be daunting to have to use for English learners who are not familiar with it.

The most common use of an apostrophe is to show possession.

  • I borrowed Sara’s book yesterday.

Here, the apostrophe shows that the book belongs to Sara.

Things can get a little more complicated with plural nouns, however.

  • The council members’ opinions were recorded in the meeting log.

Because there are multiple members in the council, the possession is expressed with an apostrophe following the -s in the plural noun members. On a side note, don’t forget to make opinions plural as well because the members carry multiple opinions.

Is there anything wrong with this sentence?

  • The council’s meeting went on longer than we all expected.

There is actually nothing wrong with the sentence above. Council is a collective noun that signifies multiple entities, but because there is only one council in question, not multiple, using ‘s instead of just an apostrophe after council is correct. Councils’ would suggest that there are more than one council which is not the case in this sentence.

What if the noun ends in an -s or -es? This has been a long debated matter, but now, you can either simply add an apostrophe after the word or add an ‘s after it. Both are accepted:

  • James’ new phone can record videos in 4K.
  • James’s new phone can record videos in 4K.

But note that some writing styles (like the AP Stylebook) prefer just adding an apostrophe, while other writing styles (like the Chicago Manual of Style and APA Publication Manual) prefer adding the full ‘s. If you are required to write in a specific writing style, be sure to check its website for the preferred method of denoting possession.

Expressing possession with names that end in -s is not to be confused with possessives with plural nouns. If you wanted to say the cats’ territory (the territory of multiple cats), you would not say the cats’s territory. Plural nouns will always be followed by just a single apostrophe to convey possession.

What if you had multiple people or objects that possess one item? In that case, you would simply add the possessive ‘s to the last name in the pair or list.

  • Mom and Dad’s old house was sold for over half a million dollars.

When in doubt, you can always double-check your apostrophe usage with Engram to make sure you’re on the right track.

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