My research suggests there’s enough confusion within each stylebook (APA, MLA, etc.), let alone between the stylebooks, to drive one mad. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer to be driven mad by something more tragic than a misplaced apostrophe. So the only thing to do, I say, is to swear allegiance to one True Religion (stylebook) and dismiss others as apostates, infidels and/or sadly mistaken souls merrily writing their way to Hell.
I have chosen to enter the Church of the Associated Press.
This only clears up half of the confusion for me, however. As I noted, things can get complicated even within one particular stylebook. I’ll try to come down from the mountain, like Moses, with The Ten Commandments (concerning Apostrophe S).
1. Thou shall simply relax when the proper or common noun does not end in the letter s. In these cases, you simply use the Apostrophe S.
to Rabbi Goldman’s relief; to the rabbi’s relief
2. Thou shall use only an apostrophe with a proper noun that ends with an s.
Moses’ life story, Jesus’ good works
3. Thou shall keep an eye out for St. James, because St. James’s Palace is the exception to the First Commandment.
4. Thou shall use only an apostrophe with a common noun that ends in the letter s and is plural.
the churches’ holiday celebrations, the babies’ baptismal clothes, the boys’ basketball
5. Thou shall use only an apostrophe with a common noun that ends in the letter s that looks plural but is singular in meaning.
mathematics’ rules, measles’ impact
6. Thou shall use only an apostrophe with a proper noun that is plural in form but is the formal names of a single entity.
The United States’ wealth, General Motors’ profits
7. Thou shall double-check what follows a singular common noun that ends with an s to see if the next word begins with an s. Only use an apostrophe if the next word begins with an s.
the hostess’s invitation, the hostess’ seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’ story
8. Thou shall not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense — do not confuse possession with description.
citizens band radio (a band radio for citizens); a teachers college (a college for teachers); a writers group (a group for writers)
9. Thou shall ignore the Eighth Commandment and follow a particular organization’s practice when it comes to a descriptive word in their names. Some choose to follow the True Religion, but some choose to go their own way. For example: Diners Club, National Governors Association … but Actors’ Equity, Ladies’ Home Journal
10. Thou shall ignore the Eighth Commandment and use an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it used in a descriptive sense in certain phrases.
a day’s pay; two weeks’ vacation; three days’ work
Thou shall follow the Golden Rules.
Just as most of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments can pretty much be boiled down to the Golden Rule (“Do Unto Others”), so can most of the AP Stylebook’s on Apostrophe S:
1. Do use Apostrophe S to show possession for a noun ending with any letter but s.
2. Do not use Apostrophe S to show possession for a noun ending with the letter s except when a singular common noun ending with the letter s is followed by word starting with a different letter.
And I’ll end it right there for Catastrophe … er, I mean, Apostrophe S.
— Nadine Siak