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Apostrophes: Ignorance & Laziness Have Not Won!

Over the past 24 hours, news outlets have featured a story about the closing of the Apostrophe Protection Society, whose founder, John Richards, wrote, “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!” I say they have not. (I also say that Mr. Richards’ sentence could use a comma before the conjunction but, but this post is about apostrophes.)

What do you say?

My readers–and students in my Punctuation for Professionals online, self-study course–are very careful with their use of the apostrophe. They ask great questions about correct usage. They send me photos of signs that require a correction. They question the suggestions of their grammar and spelling checkers. They try hard and usually succeed.

Test yourself on these 10 signs. Are they correct, or do they need an apostrophe fix? Compare your answers with mine, which appear beneath the test.


1. Correct or incorrect?


2. Correct or incorrect as an abbreviation for Garfinkel’s?


3. Correct or incorrect? It traces back to the Sotheby family.


4. Correct or incorrect as a business sign?


5. Correct or incorrect?

6. Correct or incorrect?


7. Correct or incorrect?


8. Correct or incorrect?


9. Correct or incorrect?


10. Correct or incorrect: Black’s Pub?

Black's Pub

Below are my responses and explanations.

1. Wednesday’s is incorrect. It should be the simple plural Wednesdays. In contrast, “Wednesday’s class has been canceled”  would be correct because it would be the class of Wednesday–Wednesday’s class. 

2.  As an abbreviation for Garfinkel’s, Garfs is incorrect. It should be the possessive Garf’s. 

3. Correct. The company of the Sotheby family is Sotheby’s.

4. No! No! No! Incorrect, of course. This sign should include the simple plurals Spas & Pools. 

5. Correct. The bonus day for seniors is Seniors’ Bonus Day.

6. Incorrect–assuming that the restaurant is named after Earl. If it is, it should be Earl’s. 

7. Incorrect. Womens always needs an apostrophe. The singular is woman, the plural is women, and the plural possessive is women’s. 

8. Incorrect. The possessive pet’s belongs with poop. 

9. Incorrect. These cards are for the pastors, a simple plural.

10. Correct. The pub named for an individual called Black is Black’s Pub.

How did you do? Did you prove Mr. Richards (not Richards’!) wrong? If you need more practice, take our unbeatable course Punctuation for Professionals.



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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.

11 comments on “Apostrophes: Ignorance & Laziness Have Not Won!”

  • Hi Lorraine,

    That’s a good one! Of course, there’s the example of “The Joneses’ house is for sale,” with the apostrophe after the s. But it’s still a good line.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Dave Barry wrote a comedic book in the 90s about business communication. In it he said an apostrophe is there to warn you an S is coming.

  • I always want to add an apostrophe to “users manual”, but many people don’t. Are they all wrong? Is “users” a possessive noun here, or an adjective? Can we say that a “users’ manual” belongs to the users, whereas a “users manual” is for the users?

  • I failed on women’s, perhaps because I always puzzle why yours is not your’s. And, for what it is worth, why isn’t it, for what its worth? If the worth of the matter belongs to it. Speaking of for what it’s worth, domain names do not accept an apostrophe. Black’s Pub may be correct, but they’d have to settle for

    Thanks for the lesson.

  • Hi Peter,

    I have a quick answer to your query. Possessive pronouns never have apostrophes. You are always correct with these:


    Thanks for reminding us about domain names. Good point!


  • Greg, you are right about “pets.” I chose to keep it simple, thinking that “pet’s” would most often be correct.

    Of course, we might also use “pet poop,” but it sounds a bit odd.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Hi George,

    This question has been on your mind for years. I saw it in a comment from years back.

    I checked a couple of reference books for you:

    THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE almost always uses an apostrophe in situations like the “users manual” example. CHICAGO writes: “Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names (often corporate names) that do not officially include one. In a few established cases, a singular noun can be used attributively; if in doubt, choose the plural possessive. (Irregular plurals such as ‘children’ and ‘women’ must always be in the possessive.)”

    CHICAGO lists these examples:
    children’s rights (or child rights)
    farmers’ market [That looks weird, doesn’t it?]
    women’s soccer team
    boys’ clubs
    veterans’ organizations
    consumers’ group (or consumer group)
    Diners Club
    Department of Veterans Affairs

    Interestingly, CHICAGO adds:

    “In some cases, the distinction between attributive and possessive is subtle. Of the following two examples, only the first connotes actual possession: the Lakers’ game plan (the team’s game plan), BUT the Lakers game (the game featuring the team).

    “When in doubt, opt for the possessive.”

    On the other hand, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STYLEBOOK writes: “Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide.” AP says a bit more than that, but that part is relevant to your question.

    I guess you just need to choose and hope no one complains. I prefer “users manual” or “user manual.”


  • Hi Donna,

    Shocking, isn’t it? One would think that signmakers would check with experts if they weren’t sure.


  • I see Spa’s and Pool’s frequently in Phoenix on signs and advertisements. It drives me crazy!! I want to go to the business and point out their error, but I wonder how it got as far as publication. Don’t advertising and signage companies catch such errors? Apparently not. 🙁

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