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Apostrophe Doubts? Review and Test Yourself.

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.

Correct examples:

  • 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.)

correct use of apostrophes

Test yourself on the five sentences below. Which ones need to be corrected?

  1. That teams cheerleaders have new uniforms.
  2. The neighbors complained about the loud noise.
  3. The comments from shareholders’ have been positive.
  4. All the family members’ memorabilia were gathered into a slide show.

How many of the four sentences need corrections? And how would you correct them?

I would correct two 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.)

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.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

14 comments on “Apostrophe Doubts? Review and Test Yourself.”

  • Hi Lynn, I’d love to hear your thoughts on another apostrophe catastrophe: Elvis’ or Elvis’s birthday ?

    It’s a possessive noun ending in “s.” I’ve seen this written both ways, and in research it seems like the addition s is the “right” way, but I’m still unsure. I prefer the additional s, “Elvis’s,” and I am curious what your thoughts are, if there’s an official rule for this.

  • Lynn,
    I had an interesting situation yesterday relating to plural nouns ending in s. We in intended to invite both “Chrises”. Three people had three opinions, how to refer to two employees named Chris in a memo. Examples offered include Chris’, Chris’s, Chrises. I believe the third example is correct; would appreciate your explanation. You words carry a lot of weight in the office.

  • Lynn,

    I have an apostrophe question. When addressing a family on an envelope, should it be written The Johnson’s or The Johnsons? Thank you for your help with this!

  • Hi George,

    Your sentence is correct.

    Example: I’ve still got to stop by the Joneses’ to return the ladder.

    We use the possessive because we are implying “the Joneses’ house.”

    In contrast, this form is not possessive: I am glad the Joneses let us borrow their ladder.

    Thanks for the question.


  • Hi John,

    You are right. Two Chrises were invited to the event. That’s a plural form–not a possessive.

    Regarding the other suggestions, both Chris’ and Chris’s are simple singular possessives.

    Here’s an interesting variation: Both Chrises’ cars were ticketed by the police. That example is plural and possessive.

    I hope my response settles things at work.


  • Hi Lynn,

    What is the preferred form of the term, All Saints Day? Would we need to put an apostrophe after the T, after the S, or not at all?

    Thank you,


  • Hi Virginia,

    Because “Saints” is plural, the correct rendering is “All Saints’ Day.”

    I double-checked “The Gregg Reference Manual,” which includes that entry in its list of holidays with possessive forms.


  • Hi Lynn,

    Not being a native English speaker I stumbled over the 4th sentence: “All the family members’ memorabilia was gathered into a slide show.”

    Isn’t memorabilia the subject? And if so I think it is plural and therefore ‘was’ must be ‘were’. Otherwise I don’t understand this sentence. Could you please explain? T

    Thank you. I really enjoy your posts.


  • I’d suggest your memorabilia sentence was actually correct the first time. If you replace memorabilia with a similar word such as “stuff” or “library” or “collection” you can seen that it has to be “was”. Memorabilia here acts as a single item IMHO.

  • Hi Jon,

    I checked the dictionary after receiving Yvonne’s comment. She is correct that “memorabilia” is plural. Other similar words–the ones you suggested–are indeed singular and take singular verbs, but that’s not the case with “memorabilia.”

    Thanks for stopping by.


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