Possessing your “men,” “women,” and “children.”

On this 110th anniversary of the departure of Lewis & Clark’s “Corp of Discovery” from St. Louis on its journey to the Oregon Territory, we return to the endlessly fascinating subject of using the apostrophe-s to create the possessive form of nouns.  Upon receiving his mission from President Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis was reported to have remarked, “We will civilize these newly acquired lands by teaching the natives the correct usage of the apostrophe-s.”  Well, not really, but whatever.

The basic rules, which we reviewed earlier, are pretty easy.  The plural form of most nouns is created by simply adding “s,” e.g., native/natives, expedition/expeditions, river/rivers, boat/boats.  And the possessive form of these plural nouns is created by sticking an apostrophe after the “s.”

Simple enough.  But what about irregular plurals that don’t end in “s,” such as “men,” “women,” and “children”?  For example, is it the “men’s room” or the “mens’ room”?  The “women’s tournament” or the “womens’ tournament”?  The “children’s library” or the “childrens’ library”?

Fortunately, the rule for these irregular plurals is easy—simply add an apostrophe-s, e.g.,

  • The men’s room is to the right of the elevators.
  • The women’s tournament begins on Friday.
  • The children’s library is packed full of Nancy Drew books.

That is all for now …

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