UPDATED 11 OCTOBER 2021
Inspired by the Summer Olympics, I recently led the “Punctuation Games” for a client. The sophisticated group took away gold, silver, and bronze medals for their wins in “100-Word Hyphen,” “Apostrophe Toss,” “Error-Ringing,” and a final relay race in which they inserted commas, semicolons, hyphens, and apostrophes.
Apostrophe Toss raised the most questions. Here’s one controversial sentence involving the use of the apostrophe:
The position requires at least five years experience in web site development.
The sentence needed to be tossed into the “s apostrophe” basket because the correct rendering is “five years’ experience.”
But why use the apostrophe? Because years is a possessive form.
The opinion of the group is the group’s opinion. (singular)
The reputation of the man is the man’s reputation. (singular)
The rivalry of the teams is the teams’ rivalry. (plural)
The pay of a week is a week’s pay. (singular)
The sabbatical of a year is a year’s sabbatical. (singular)
The experience of five years is five years’ experience. (plural)
To reiterate — if the noun is in plural form, and already has an “s” at the end, a single apostrophe is needed to indicate possession.
Many people don’t like the “years’ experience” construction, and I don’t blame them. It’s odd. But it is also correct.
If you don’t want to use phrases such as “a week’s pay” and “five years’ experience” because they seem odd or awkward, add the word of, like these correct examples:
He is owed a week of pay.
The job requires five years of experience.
In October he will begin a year of sabbatical.
By adding “of” you are avoiding the possessive form of the noun, and no longer have to deal with the apostrophe.e
But if you are happy using “a year’s time” and “two weeks’ notice,” keep on using them confidently. Every punctuation guide on my bookshelf promotes that usage as correct.
Related: For more on the topic of apostrophes and possessive forms, read these past blog posts:
I will write again in a few days’ time!