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You know where you can put your apostrophe?

Oct 26, 2014

We need to talk about our apostrophe problem.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says the pesky punctuation defies the rules.

That's mostly because the rules depend on which style guide you use.

"The biggest problem is when a noun ends in s and we want to make it a possessive, which immediately runs us into the question of whether we use apostrophe-s or just an apostrophe," Curzan says.

"For example: James has a house. So is it James' or James's house?"

Some people aesthetically don't like the look of s's, Curzan says. 

"And if you look in style guides, you'll find a range of answers. Strunk and White, which is a very common style guide, says if you have a noun ending in s, add apostrophe-s in all instances except for Moses, Jesus, and other classical names."

Curzan says it's unclear where that leaves Grandma Moses and anybody else named Jesus.

"Other style guides will say it depends on the pronunciation. If you add an extra syllable, you should add apostrophe-s. So it would be 'the boss's memo' because of the extra syllable."

However, if you have more than one boss and they get together to write a memo, it would be the bosses' memo.

What does it all mean? Let your intuition be your guide.

"That's about where I'm landing at this point, although many style guides will tell you to pick one theory and stick with it all the way through the text," Curzan says.

Listen to the full segment above.