Plurals, Possessives, and Surnames Oh My!


A reader asked me to address possessives with a proper name.  I mentioned it in an article early on (see Apostrophail!), but we will delve into it here.

The first rule–the most important thing to remember when working with surnames (a person’s last name)–is do not change a person’s name. You can’t add an apostrophe before an “s” when the surname ends in “s.” For instance, do not make the name “Andrews” possessive by putting the apostrophe between the “w” and the “s.” That is changing the spelling of Andrews. A person’s name is the most personal thing they have. Don’t mess that up! So here are some tips for making surnames plural and possessive.

To make most surnames plural, you add an “s.”

  • The Smiths went to the Halloween party dressed as dice.

That means more than one Smith went to the party. Where the surname ends in s, x, ch, sh, or z, you should add es to make the name plural.

  • The Lopezes have been married for 50 years.

However, if adding es makes the name hard to pronounce, just use the s.

  • The Hastings went to the park for a picnic. (In this case Hastingses would be difficult to pronounce, so Hastings is better.)

As for possessives, to make most surnames possessive, add an apostrophe and an “s.”

  • Mr. Smith’s car was repossessed.

For these surnames that are plural and possessive, make them plural by adding an “s” and then add an apostrophe to make them possessive.

  • The Smiths’ car was parked illegally.

Where surnames end in “s,” to make them possessive, pronounce the word. If you say the extra “s,” you add apostrophe and “s.”

  • Shirley Jones’s son flunked algebra.

You would pronounce it “Joneses,” so you add the apostrophe and “s.” Where the surname ends in “s” and making it plural adds an extra syllable that makes it awkward to pronounce, add only the apostrophe.

  • Mr. Andrews’ house was broken into.

You would not pronounce it “Andrewses,” so you only add the apostrophe. Where you are talking about a surname that ends in “s” and you want it plural and possessive, make it plural first and then follow the rules on making it possessive.

  • The Joneses’ house was for sale.

You make Jones plural by adding “es” because it ends in “s,” but adding apostrophe and “s” after that would make it difficult to pronounce (Joneseses) so you just add the apostrophe.

Again, the main thing to remember is not to change the basic spelling of a person’s name. Start with their name spelled correctly, and then figure out how to make it plural and/or possessive.

Hopefully this is helpful. Don’t upset a person by misspelling their name. Possessives and plurals aren’t difficult if you think about the base word you are trying to change.



Image credit: <a href=’’>bradcalkins / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Possessives with Personal Titles

A friend recently forwarded me a question about the first sentence in a brief for a state Court of Appeals that they wanted to make sure was correct.  The sentence was (which I have changed to protect her client):

  • In 2006 Mr. Smith did not dispute the facts set forth in Jim Jones’, Esq. opinion letter which established the sale of the business was XXX.

There is nothing specifically on point in the Gregg Reference Manual, but I did find a couple of places on the Internet where the question was answered with the example of “M.D.” In that case, for singular possession, you add “s” after the apostrophe, i.e., Jim Jones, M.D.’s diagnosis. The most prevalent use of what would be “Jim Jones, Esq.’s” is on LinkedIn–certainly not an expert in the grammar area–but makes the most sense and follows the example for M.D. I think the proper sentence would be:

  • In 2006 Mr. Smith did not dispute the facts set forth in Jim Jones, Esq.’s opinion letter which established the seller of the business was XXX.

The easiest answer is to reword the sentence:

  • In 2006 Mr. Smith did not dispute the facts set forth in attorney Jim Jones’ opinion letter which established the seller of the business was XXX.


  • In 2006 Mr. Smith did not dispute the facts set forth in the opinion letter of Jim Jones, Esq. which established the seller of the business was XXX.

It was a great question and something that at first blush seems simple, but when you really think about it, it wasn’t quite so easy.

Grammar Giggles – The Party Did What?

As some of you know, last week I started a new job that has really sucked the extra energy out of me. With apologies for not posting at all last week, I’m hoping some of you missed your “Proof It” fix and promise that I will make a concerted effort to research and post the blog post on Wednesday and to post two Grammar Giggles–one today and one on Friday. Thanks for your support! On to your Monday Grammar Giggle.

This was sent to me by a friend who received it from opposing counsel. It makes me wonder what this even means. It is incorrectly plural and incorrectly possessive. I can’t help but be embarrassed for this firm that this work product came out of their office–and I don’t even know which firm it is.


Grammar Giggles – Elementary School Yearbook’s

My granddaughter brought her yearbook over to show me this weekend. I started thumbing through it and was unbelievably discouraged at the multiple (as in more than one, more than two, I stopped counting) errors. Even if the school itself didn’t put the yearbook together, it has their name all over it and represents their school, so SOMEONE should have at least looked at it to make sure it was correct. Maybe the sixth graders should have proofread it. My son asked me not to post a link on the PTO’s Facebook page, so I will just use it for Grammar Giggles (or perhaps Grammar Groan is more appropriate). But I couldn’t resist using the page that had my beautiful granddaughter’s picture on it (since I had my choice of every page of sixth graders) even though it showcases my number one grammar pet peeve–apostrophes for plurals!

School yearbook

Quickies – Capitals, Colons, and More

Time for a few quickies.

  • Is Internet Capitalized? I’ve seen it both ways, but Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style say that the Internet, as “one big specific network that people visit,” should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says the capitalized Internet is the “global system of linked computer networks,” while the lowercased internet refers to local area networks linked to each other but not to the Internet. So they all agree that when you are talking about the Internet that is more than linked local area networks, capitalize it.
  • What About the Web and Website? The Web is short for the World Wide Web, again a specific thing, so Web would be capitalized–at least for Associated Press. The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees and recently said that the word web standing alone may be lowercased. However, website is a more generic term that can refer to any number of different sites, so it is not capitalized. Just to keep things really confusing, the Gregg Reference Manual says that Web site is commonly two words with Web capitalized and until the World Wide Web loses its capitalization through popular usage, Web site should be capitalized. Since I’m primarily a Gregg user, I guess I will use Web site. Compound words that include web (such as webcam and webinar) are not capitalized.
  • How Many Spaces After a Colon? Again, back in the old days, there were always two spaces after a colon. Now that we are using more proportional type and using only one space after a period, one space is more appropriate. 
  • When is Next Wednesday? Since people understand different words different ways, it is always confusing to use the term next Wednesday. Does that mean the next Wednesday after today or the Wednesday in the next week? As it is so confusing, best practice is not to use next in this context, but to be more specific about what day you are actually talking about. Instead of next Wednesday, it is more clear to say Wednesday, February 13, or Wednesday a week from tomorrow.
  • Hint for Possessives. As you may know, misuse of apostrophes to make plural words possessive is my biggest pet peeve. I will admit that sometimes I have issues figuring it out–particularly when the base word is a bit unusual. In those cases, I substitute the problem word for a more generic word. For example, if I’m trying to decide if the name Andrews is plural, I might substitute Smith. So in the sentence I knew the Andrews car was in the neighborhood by the rumble of the stereo, I substitute Andrews with Smith, and I know that the Smith car would not be possessive, so my sentence is fine the way it is. If my example was I knew Mr. Andrews’ car was in the neighborhood . . . and I replaced it with I knew Mr. Smith’s car was in the neighborhood . . . I know that it should be possessive. Make your substitute word something simple to make possessive and it will help you make your word correct.
If you have a quickie question or a tip that helps you remember a grammar rule, send it to me ( and we’ll answer it for you and others who probably have the same questions or share your tip so that we can all learn something.

Confusing Contractions

Contractions are used to indicate where letters are missing in a word. I think that because there may be apostrophes involved, contractions and possessive pronouns are often confused. If the word shows possession, use an apostrophe as necessary to show that possession. (See Astrophail!) If there are letters missing from a word, the apostrophe shows where those letters are missing. Some of the most confusing examples are:

its (possessive)                       it’s (it is OR: it has)
their (possessive)                     they’re (they are) OR: there’re (there are)
theirs (possessive)                    there’s (there is OR: there has)
your (possessive)                      you’re (you are)

If you’re not sure which is correct, test substituting “it is, it has, they are, there are, there is, there has, or you are,” whichever is appropriate, in place of the word that is confusing you. If the substitution does not make sense, it is not a contraction, so you should use the appropriate possessive form.

The dog was chewing on its paw. (“Chewing on it is paw” does not make sense.)

 HOWEVER: It’s time to get ready to leave for the party. (“It is time” does make sense.)

He said, “Your car is leaking oil.” (“You are car” does not make sense.)

HOWEVER: She said, “You’re welcome” when he thanked her for the gift. (“You are welcome” is correct.)

Their house was beautifully landscaped. (“They are house” does not work.)

They’re in their house with all the lights on. (“They are in their house” is correct.) 

Try the substitution test if you aren’t sure if a contraction is appropriate. If it is not, use the proper possessive word. In legal documents, contractions are not used as they are really used for more informal, friendly writing. A legal document is more formal and in an effort to avoid any confusion and keep it more formal, contractions are rarely appropriate. Again, however, this may be a matter of style and preference for a specific attorney. So go out and use contractions at will–except in legal documents and where it isn’t a contraction. 

Me, myself, and I

In this post I hope to pass on to yourself and others the importance of the proper use of the -self and -selves words. Just writing that sentence made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The -self and -selves words are reflexive pronouns meaning they “reflect” back in the same sentence to the personal pronoun such as me, you, him, her. Think of the reflexive pronoun as reflecting in a mirror and it needs the pronoun to make the reflection. The phrase “me, myself, and I” is correct because myself reflects back on the reference to me. However, the song title “Dancing with Myself” is not correct because there is no pronoun for myself to reflect. If it were “I am dancing with myself,” it would be correct because then the myself is reflecting back on I. Using myself in a sentence as the subject of the sentence is wrong. Using myself without a pronoun to reflect back on is wrong. I can’t tell you the number of times I see and hear something like “Jane went to the mall with Mary and myself.” There is no personal pronoun in that sentence for myself to reflect. If you take Mary out of the mall party, would you really say “Jane went to the mall with myself”? I certainly hope not! So the sentence should be changed to “Jane went to the mall with Mary and me” because Jane would go to the mall with me and not with myself whether Mary was there or not.

Unless your sentence contains a reference to you already, you should not use myself. The same goes for yourself, themselves, himself, herself, etc. Unless you’ve already mentioned you, them, him, or her, you can’t add -self or -selves. Personally I think there are very few instances where any of the -selves fit or are necessary, so just don’t use them. Trust me, using myself does not make you sound more intelligent. In fact, just the opposite is true. If you must use it, however, make sure it reflects back to the appropriate pronoun. If the -self in your sentence can’t reflect something, just don’t use it. You can guarantee that is a way to make yourself very happy!


I think the number one all time grammar fail is the apostrophe.  It is not a punctuation mark for making words plural (more than one of something), it is a mark to show possession (ownership of something) or to show where letters are missing in a contraction (such as “don’t”).  There is an easy test I found to make it a little easier to determine if something needs an apostrophe for possession:

  • Look for the possible possessive phrase:

– the man[‘s] desk
  • Reverse the nouns:

– desk of the man
  • Examine the base ownership word to determine who owns the thing (here “man”).  The most important thing is not to change the spelling of a singular noun just to make it possessive.  For instance, the man (one man) is still the owner of the desk.  Ownership doesn’t magically make the desk belong to more than one man.  It would be the “man’s desk” not the “men’s desk.”
  • Does the base word showing ownership end with an s sound?
  • If it does not end in an s sound, add an apostrophe and s:

– the man’s desk
  • If the ownership word does end in an s sound, you usually add only an apostrophe:

– both boys’ desks

UNLESS you actually hear the s sound when you say it, then you should add an apostrophe and s

– Phoenix’s traffic

– Waitress’s tables

That is a really important “unless” and one that is controversial.  Say it out loud if necessary.  Again, however, while it may be correct under one reference source, the person you are working for may not like it that way.  Do it the way they want it so you can stay employed, but keep fighting the fight and sharing your resources so that hopefully one day they will come over to your way of thinking (or just get tired of listening to you go on and on about it – which is what I think happens in my case more than I’d like to admit).

Proper names are sometimes the most difficult.  I once worked with someone with the last name “Andrews” and actually saw (with my own eyes) how people (and more than one) would try to make it possessive by adding the apostrophe before the s – Andrew’s.  Never, ever change the spelling of someone’s name before you make it plural or possessive.  Start with the name and then do what you need to do to it.  Just remember that is one thing that is sacred to everyone – their own name.

Apostrophes really are not as difficult as they seem to be when you see how often they are used incorrectly.  It is just something that takes thinking about to get right.  Take the time to think about it and you are a step ahead of most people.

I want to take just a minute to thank you all for the terrific response to my first blog posts.  I was really worried about starting this blog because I knew my audience would be at least as crazy about good grammar as I am, so I read, re-read, edited, re-edited, and procrastinated posting because I was worried that I had missed errors and would be publicly called out on it.  I did miss errors, but people were really nice about it, taught me a thing or two I didn’t know, and I was able to correct the errors without public humiliation.  I did tell you I’m not an expert and I’m not.  My hope is that I am able to impart some good tips to help you be just a little bit better.  If that happens, I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do and actually made a difference – errors and all.

Grammar Giggles – Nail’s

Time for a grammar giggle.  I took this picture at a local grocery store shopping center.  I’ve passed it multiple times and I notice it every time.  Apparently, the Club belongs to the Nail … or the owner’s name is Nail … or they don’t understand possessives.

Please share pictures of your own “grammar giggles” so we can all enjoy them.  Email your favorites to