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Sunday, July 16, 2023

All about apostrophes

cj Sez: How to properly use an apostrophe in some plurals has always plagued me, especially when input from critique readers challenges what I've written.

  I usually get on the Internet and do a search to prove to myself that I’m right (almost always), so I decided I should go to THE source for writers, The Chicago Manual of Style. I recorded the proper usage in a handy-dandy Word document that I keep on my computer and thought I'd share my findings with you.

  A Google search for how to use apostrophes results in a long list of sources. The following excerpts are examples of questions asked by wordsmiths and the answers provided by a CMOS correspondent:
Plural Names

Q. My boyfriend and I are having a battle royal over the use of apostrophes in plural names. In his PhD dissertation he repeatedly refers to a family by the name of Wallace. When he refers to them in the plural, he insists that the correct form is “the Wallace’s,” which seems entirely incorrect to me. I hold that it should be “the Wallaces,” just like “the McDonalds” or “the McPartlands” or “the DeVitos.” He is backing up his position with the example “the G.I.s,” which he insists should be pluralized as “the G.I.’s.” Please help. This is ruining our dinner conversation!

A. Usually in such arguments, the woman is right. Yours is no exception. The plural of names of persons and other capitalized nouns is usually formed with the addition of s or es. An apostrophe is never used to form the plural of family names. Write “the Wallaces,” “the Joneses,” the “Jordans,” etc. See paragraph 7.8 of the sixteenth edition of CMOS for the full statement of the applicable rule. As for G.I., Chicago style is GI (no periods), the plural of which we write as GIs. See 10.4 and 7.14.

Possessives and Attributives

Q. When indicating possession of a word that ends in s, is it correct to repeat the s after using an apostrophe? For example, which is correct: “Dickens’ novel” or “Dickens’s novel”?

A. Either is correct, though we prefer the latter. Please consult 7.15–18 for a full discussion of the rules for forming the possessive of proper nouns. For a discussion of the alternative practice of simply adding an apostrophe to form the possessive of proper nouns ending in s, see paragraph 7.21.

Q. I have suddenly become an editor and am having trouble on a daily basis with the numeric use of decades. First, is “the 90s” or “the ’90s” correct? We often see the apostrophe omitted these days. Next, if a sentence contains the phrase, “Perhaps the 70s best director . . .” (meaning, the best director of that decade), “70s” is both plural and possessive. Should it be “70’s”? “70s’”? Other than reconstructing the sentence, what’s an editor to do?

A. Strictly speaking, ’90s, with the apostrophe, is correct.

The ’70s’ finest director was Martin Scorsese, particularly for his work on Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver.

Note the apostrophes, both of them. You are always free to write “seventies’ finest.” Or, “The finest director of the ’70s was assuredly Francis Ford Coppola, for his work on the first two Godfather films and Apocalypse Now.”


  cj Sez: By the by, the Seventeenth Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style is still available, and according to the blurb: “for more than one hundred years The Chicago Manual of Style has remained the definitive guide for anyone who works with words.” Notice it said "anyone." The resource is not just for authors. 
Hope you found a nugget in this post that you can use, and FYI, The Associated Press Stylebook used by journalists differs somewhat.


Writers, if you have a book launch coming up and want to schedule a post on Lyrical Pens for your blog tour, drop me a note. (PG13, please.)


     On the Personal News Front, I can claim a writing victory: I submitted a chapter from my re-activated and now re-themed WIP to a contest. More than any dollar award, what I really want is the professional critique that all entries are to receive. I need (am desperate for) someone other than a family member to give me feedback on this piece. Even so, bonus points for the family member who thought the MC was boring, and I will owe him a steak dinner should the entry garner some positive comments and direction. I finally like this version better than any of the previous iterations, and I hope someone else likes it too. Of course, the changes make even more work: Now I have to re-edit the re-edit I just finished of my “Untitled” manuscript because I’ve changed the plot . . . again.


   That’s it for this week’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe summer…with lots of time for rest, relaxation, and reading!


   My books are available on Amazon or through your favorite eTailer and bookstore. Got a library card? You can read the ebooks free from Hoopla.
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