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That pesky apostrophe again!

edited June 2010 in - Writing Problems
His sister was safe, and well out of harm’s way.


His sister was safe, and well out of harms way.

I've always been told that if you can turn a sentence round like so: well out of the way of harm, then an apostrophe is needed. But in this case, I'm having doubts.


  • To me when you say Harms, it is a thing, person, object and needs the apostrophe. I'll probably get told off but I doesn't care lol
  • That's what I was thinking too, Lee.
  • needs the apostrophe!
  • Yes, must have an apostrophe. Imagine how ridiculous it would be without.
  • I imagined, and it looked OK hence me asking! ;)

    Thanks Dorothy and Dwight.
  • I agree with D and D.
  • sometimes the correct thing is unweildy and unclear.
    I always have trouble with :

    "One of my sons [sons'] [son's] girlfriend is coming to stay"
    Now, you may think this is simple - but I have three sons. If I write, or say, 'my son's girlfriend' this is correct and unambigous, but strictly speaking, not accurate because I have not implied that I have more than one son.
    If I say 'sons' [sons's] girlfriend' it is unweildy and still not accurate.
    I usually say 'the girlfriend of one of my sons'
    Try this:
    Ken Dodds Dads Dog Dans dead. :-)
  • Ken Dodd's Dad's dog Dan's dead
  • "my sons' girlfriend," is not really unwieldy - it just means the wrong thing - I trust!
    girlfriend is singular but sons is plural, so it implies that they all share the one girlfriend.
    In spoken language, however, it will be understood as "my son's girlfriend," which of course, is ambiguous if
    it's not known which son you are talking about. Otherwise, it's fine.
    "The girlfriend of one of my sons," is by far the best, especially in spoken language where
    folk cannot see where the apostrophe is placed, and when they don't know which son
    you are referring to.
  • Ken Dodd's Dad's Dan is dead.
  • Or you could say, One of my sons, Robert's, girlfriend is coming to stay.
  • edited June 2010
    What a wonderful example Bill... my first reaction was that the "girlfriend" should be plural, ie "one of my sons' girlfriends", to allow for each son having a girlfriend. That "one of" implies part of a greater number, and could apply to girlfriend or son. To illustrate the point, "One of my son is coming", is clearly wrong, so we definitely need a plural noun "one of my sons is coming".
    It is not lost on me that this solution could also lead to misunderstandings about the number of girlfriends each son has! I suppose it boils down to whether you are keen to stress the implication of multiple sons OR whether each only has one girlfriend!

    It might be easier to always invite all three at once of course.
  • I spent some time this afternoon proofing branch reports for the journal of the Royal Society of St George (a freebie, small service for the organisation) and was astonished to see how many times I put (in red) 'remove apostrophe.' Even very (seemingly) intelligent people go to pieces when confronted by the pesky thing!
  • I had the sons problem on another thread and opted for the son's usage...
  • My head hurts....
  • Couldn't you just say ' My eldest (middle or youngest) son's girlfriend'...? That would tell people you have more than one son and he only has one girlfriend.
  • But it sounds a mouthful to speak.
  • Or you could just be mean, like me, and ban the son's girlfriend from the house. Then you never have to waste an apostrophe on her behalf. Mind you, I don't ban the sons' girlfriends, just the son's girlfriend.
  • Which son Mcb? I really think you should be specific. I can't get worked up over the apostrophe of an anonymous son's girlfriend.
  • James's's's's's's's's's's's's'
  • Oh, boy am I worked up now. That is a complete waste of apostrophes. And think of the CO2 you've just used!
  • CO2's?
  • Carbon dioxide. Every moment you spend on a computer is very carbon footprint heavy. It's my biggest guilt! (But here I was joking obviously!)
  • I don't know. It doesn't sound as though you're joking at all.
  • I just submitted a short article to the local village mag about our annual village show, bigging up the circus skills workshop. Imagine my irritation when I discovered they have printed it as circus skills' workshop. Arggh! If it was a pottery or tennis workshop I'm sure they wouldn't have added an extra apostrophe. Now shall I email them and winge, or just let it lie? Luckily my name isn't on there but most people will know who it is.
  • It was the apostrophe in CO2 not the actual "why are you wasting the CO2!" Oh, the problem of text without facial expression. I should have added ;) sorry.
  • Carbon dioxide doesn't have a plural 's,' but if it did, it should not have an apostrophe as it would be a plural and not a contraction... For the same reason when you write 1980 as a plural, the 1980s, it should not have an apostrophe.
  • ... unless you want to suggest, for example: 1980's styles. I think.
  • Absolutely, because then it is possessive.
  • Insert the apostrophe(s), if any, into Loves Labours Lost. :)
  • Love's Labour's Lost. Do I get a prize?
  • Let me consult my Shakespeare ... That's correct. Go to the top of the class, Red. :)
  • that was easy!
  • edited June 2010
    But wrong? Stirling told us a while ago that apostrophes weren't introduced until AFTER Shakespeare's time. Her tutor is an expert.

    Here's the link -

  • clever clog ...
  • Well, obviously they wouldn't have been used during Shakespeare's time, or at least, they were scattered through documents willy-nilly then, and used mainly for contractions and shortening of any old word (to save paper and ink).

    But clearly it is not wrong to put punctuation in it nowadays, otherwise it would mean it being unreadable to many today. If you wrote out his plays as they were written by the author, they'd be incomprehensible. But that is impossible because none of the original documents survive. The only thing to survive of Shakepeare's writing are signatures on his will and tenant agreements or stuff like that. And they are the signatures quite frankly of someone illiterate. Or who doesn't write much... So it doesn't really add up...
  • [quote=dorothyd]clever clog ... [/quote]

    Yep, Stirling's lucky to have him/her as a tutor!

    I have to add an apostrophe. If Shakespeare doesn't like it, tough.
  • Okay - here's something that has flumoxed me. In my OWC entry I wrote: he'd have lots of hail mary's to say...
    Then, I thought the apostrophe must be wrong, so I deleted it - but that looked even more wrong - so I let it stand.
    Question: So should I have deleted it or not?
  • to me it stays.
  • Phew! Thanks, Dorothy - glad I stuck with my instincts.
  • Grammar isnt important just tell em your approaching it freestyle and its their problemo.
  • Yes it should be there, as you are talking about more than one Hail Mary being said. :)
  • "Three Hail Marys is a traditional Roman Catholic devotional practice of reciting three Hail Marys as a petition for purity and other virtues."
  • I don't think it should be there in three Hail Marys. Instinct ;) . Should this punctuation be called an apostrophe for possession but a raised comma for elisions, etc.? Just asking.
  • edited June 2010
    Dwight and BB are correct. Hail Marys is plural so no apostrophe. An apostrophe should only be use to denote possession: 'Steve's car was stolen' or as Claudia used 'he'd' to shorten 'he had'.'

    'It's' used to drive me nuts. 'It's' is used as a shorten form of 'it is' where 'its' is again about possession: 'Its chain had snapped.'

    Listen to me, you would think I am a grammar expert. :D

    Editors, like tutors don't have much time for poor grammar. :D
  • It depends on whether you are referring to Hail Marys as Hail Mary prayers or not... if so, then Hail Mary's wold be correct. If you are referring to the (more than one) prayers as Hail Marys, then there should not be an apostrophe.
  • I agree with you

    If in doubt use the full words not the contraction:

    'It is chain had snapped.' Without contraction.

    'Its chain had snapped.' Possession.
  • Nooooooooo - now you're flumoxing me again! :)
    My character might have lots of hail mary's to say - as in lots of prayers? Sorry, non-catholic here so don't know precisely how the hail mary system works - just know you have to say them to expiate your sins. So if one hail mary equals one prayer, then that's lots of prayers; i.e. lots of hail mary's.
    So presumably the apostrophe should be there?
  • But you wouldn't put prayer's.
  • No... A Catholic usually (as penance) has to say more than one Hail Mary. And the are Mary's prayers. You would never say prayer's as that is merely a plural... but to avoid confusion I would definitely put Hail Marys.
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