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The English language can certainly be confusing. Add grammar and punctuation to that, and there are all sorts of possible dangers ahead.
Today I’d like to specifically address the use of (or rather, the non-use of) the apostrophe when pluralizing surnames.
You see, in far too many communications from individuals and organizations, the apostrophe is used when it should not be. Far less often it is omitted when it should be employed, but generally the grammatical grievance looks something like this:
We will be joining the Smith’s for dinner tonight.
What that sentence literally means is, “We will be joining [those who belong to Smith] for dinner tonight.” Now, is that what the writer intended? Likely, no.
The proper way to pluralize is to simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of the singular form of the noun. (Right? We all know that, don’t we?) For some reason, particularly when referring to a family surname, adding that apostrophe has such a strong pull on us that we must stick it in there.
What’s really odd is, even our iOS devices’ auto-correct feature adds that pesky apostrophe! Come on, Apple!
Now, you could employ the little dot with the tail if you wanted to make the plural possessive. For example:
We are going to the Smiths’ for dinner tonight.
In this case, you’d be speaking of the Smiths’ residence, while omitting the specific word used for that residence. (“House”, “Home”, “Abode”, “Domicile”, etc.) But since the Smiths possess their home, you’d add that friendly possessive punctuator to the end of their pluralized name.
Now, where this gets even tricker (I’ll admit) is when the friend’s surname ends in an ‘s’, or even something that sounds like an ‘s’. For example:
Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner with the Joneses.
The trouble is, first, it’s sometimes harder to say. Second, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. All those ‘s’ sounds… shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?!
Nope. Not unless it’s possessive, as above, in which case, the sentence would read:
Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner at the Joneses’.
So much to remember!
For more on this very interesting topic, please see this article, and this very funny article about the apostrophe.
And please, friend, practice and perfect this punctuation, and help end the Apostrophe Apostasy!
Have you ever checked out “The Girl’s Like Spaghetti” or “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”? You can get them at the library. They are by Lynne Truss. They are great for the kids…and adults 🙂
Yes, Ian has read those. I think he liked them, too. So much trouble do we have with our language! We don’t speak real good sometimes! 😉
“Nope. Not unless its possessive, as above, in which case, the sentence would read:”
That word up there should be “it’s” with an apostrophe, not “its.”
“Its” is the possessive form of “it.” That word up there is short for “it is,” so the apostrophe replaces the left out letter “i.”
Ha! Good find. That was, of course, simply a typo, as the proper usage of the contraction can be found just a few sentences earlier. But, that is quite ironic in a post about the proper usage of apostrophes! Lovely. Thanks for letting me know.