My latest editorial peeve: possessives that . . . aren't.
You know the kind of thing I'm talking about:
"Banana's were on sale."
"We visited the Smith's."
"How many book's have you read?"
ACK! Each of those are trying to be plural, meaning more than one. Try again:
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Why no apostrophe? Because the bananas don't own anything. Neither do the group of people with Smith as their the last name. And what exactly do the books own? Nothing, at least, not in that sentence.
A lot of writers should have their apostrophe allotment removed, the way they abuse them. Plain old plural doesn't take one of those curly marks. You just add an S.
Instead, use apostrophes to show ownership:
If you want to discuss something the book possesses, then you'd say:
The book's cover is blue.
Or if the Smiths (there are several of them, so no apostrophe) own something, you could say:
The Smiths' car broke down.
Note that in this case, it's both plural (several people named Smith, such as an entire family) and possessive (they own the car). So you add the S and then the apostrophe.
Don't let possessive pronouns trip you up. Even though they're possessive, you never add an apostrophe. Of course, the only pronoun that ever really causes trouble in this area is ITS (being mistaken for its friend, IT'S, which means IT IS).
But you wouldn't say M'Y or HE'R or THEI'R, so you wouldn't say IT'S when you mean the thing owns something, as in, "the book and ITS ugly cover."
To keep it simple, I won't go into the debate about whether to add "es" to names for plurals when they already end with "s" (Dickens/Dickenses) or how you deal with possessives there (Dickens'/Dickenses'). That's another post.
For now, have mercy on your reader.
Do I mean more than one thing?
If yes, use JUST an S:
- the books were stacked
- the houses along the street
- the Smiths came to the party
- the tables were round
Do you mean the thing owns something else?
If yes, use an apostrophe and an S:
- the book's publisher
- the house's front yard
- the Smiths' baby
- the table's shape
Easy as pie. Or pies. Or as yummy as the pie's filling. Or something.
Just keep those apostrophes in check. Don't let them out of their cage unless they behave.