A dear friend just told me about an embarrassing apostrophe situation she experienced at work. She had just put up a sign with the heading October Birthday's, which listed employee and member birthdays, when someone stopped and stared grimly at it.
The individual said, "I'm a grammar guy, and this sign drives me nuts." He went on to explain that the apostrophe in birthdays was wrong.
My friend was checking with me to be certain about the grammar guy's correctness. Is the apostrophe wrong in October Birthday's?
Are you confident of your answer?
It's a good idea to periodically review punctuation and grammar rules to be sure you remember them correctly. My friend defended her apostrophe in birthdays because the birthdays belong to people. She thought belonging required an apostrophe.
But she remembered the rule wrong. The apostrophe is inserted into the word that does the belonging; that is, the apostrophe appears in the name of the person or thing that possesses. The grammar guy was right.
- Sami's birthday is in October. (The birthday of Sami is Sami's birthday.)
- Two members' birthdays were last week. (The birthdays of two members are two members' birthdays.)
- Two members celebrated birthdays last week. (No apostrophe because the word members is not followed by the thing they possess, birthdays.)
- The man questioned the sign's correctness. (The correctness of the sign is the sign's correctness.)
- We always celebrate member birthdays. (Here member is used as a simple adjective, so there is no apostrophe and no s.)
- We always celebrate members' birthdays. (Again, the birthdays of members are members' birthdays.)
Test yourself on the five sentences below. Which ones need to be corrected?
- That teams cheerleaders have new uniforms.
- The neighbors complained about the loud noise.
- The comments from shareholders' have been positive.
- All the family members' memorabilia were gathered into a slide show.
- (Test yourself on the sign below.)
How many of the five sentences need corrections? And how would you correct them?
I would correct three of them. See my changes below.
1. That team's cheerleaders have new uniforms. (The cheerleaders of the team are the team's cheerleaders.)
3. The comments from shareholders have been positive. (No apostrophe belongs in that sentence, but "shareholders' comments" would be correct.)
5. The sign should read "Notecards for the Pastor" or "Notecards for the Pastors." However, "Notecards for the Pastor's Use" (or "Notecards for the Pastors' Use" for more than one pastor) would be correct.
Got questions? Here are a few other blog posts on this essential topic:
Apostrophe Help Please! Review the rules of apostrophe use.
Whistler's Apostrophe Challenge Test yourself on 15 signs in Whistler, British Columbia.
Do Not Use Apostrophes to Make Plurals Learn when it is acceptable to use apostrophes to form plurals.
Seattle Seahawks Apostrophe Test Take an apostrophe test for football fans.
Clinton's and Sanders's Apostrophes Find out whether to add just an apostrophe or an apostrophe and an s.
Its? It's? Or Its'? You can guess what this one is about.
If you want to gain confidence in your skills and knowledge of punctuation, take my online self-study course Punctuation for Professionals.