Pop Culture Grammar Bytes: Possessive Plural Punctuation

When we write for any reason, we need to be as clear as possible so that the recipient of our message understands what we want to say. Errors such as punctuation or spelling mistakes can confuse our reader. Unfortunately, it can be difficult if we aren’t sure what the rules are. That’s why I started Pop Culture Grammar Bytes. Let’s get to know grammar better by looking at it with a pop culture twist!

Recently, we looked at the difference between plural and possessive punctuation. I wanted to keep things uncomplicated for that post. I mentioned that we’d tackle other rules of possessive punctuation soon, and here we are! If you’ve ever had questions on how to use punctuation to show that more than one “someone” (or, in some cases, something) owns something, you’ve come to the right place! There are a few rules to keep in mind with possessive punctuation, and using it wrong can lead to some real confusion.

I’m Not (Going to Be) a Writer, so Why is Grammar Important for me?

Why-learn-EnglishI’m glad you asked! Writing is a useful skill that benefits people regardless of career choice or interests. You don’t have to be a writer to use grammar to your advantage. Knowing grammar rules can enhance your resume, boost your written-communication skills (important for getting jobs, communicating with friends/family, and for sending messages at work), help you write entrance essays for college or tech school applications, and help you pass classes in said higher ed programs. At the absolute least, knowing your grammar rules can save you from nasty encounters with overly enthusiastic, self-righteous grammar jerks in online spaces.

There are virtually no limits to the number of ways that having good grammar skills will benefit you no matter where you see yourself in the future. Although you should never feel so paralyzed by grammar that it stops you from writing at all, good grammar can really help your readers understand what you’re trying to say (I strongly advocate not worrying too much about grammar as you write, and only fretting worrying about it during the editing stages). Having said that, let’s get started!

There is One Owner

Here’s some important repeat from the last Pop Culture Grammar Bytes: if you want to show that someone/thing owns something else, you need one of these: an apostrophe! That’s the main difference between possessive (someone owns something) and plural (there’s more than one of something). Mixing these up is very confusing!

Here’s an example I touched on last time. There is an important difference between writing Steven’s band and Stevens band. In one, Steven “owns” the band (or it’s the band that he is part of). In the other, there are many Stevens in a band.

steven and the gems.png
Steven‘s band (possessive)
and the stevens
Stevens band (plural)

This is one of the most confusing mistakes you can make with this grammar. Be careful! If it helps you remember, a person needs something to own, and that something is the apostrophe!

Now that we’ve done a quick review, let’s take a closer look at some other possessive rules.

There are Many Owners

The thing that seems to mess with people’s heads when it comes to possessive punctuation is that the apostrophe moves depending on the number of people involved. When you’re talking about owners, plural, the apostrophe moves to after the s like this:

the emotions controle panel
The emotions’ control panel allowed them to help Riley be awesome. (There are multiple emotions, and they own the control panel)
airbenders home
The Fire Nation burned the airbenders’ home. (There are multiple Airbenders who call this place home)
black pearl
The pirates’ ship was called the Black Pearl. (There are multiple pirates and they own the Black Pearl)

Okay, So What If There is More Than One Owned Thing?

Good news! The punctuation for possessives only changes based on the owner. The object that is owned doesn’t matter at all (other than its existence… Nobody could own something if it didn’t exist!). In other words, the number of Pokemon a character owns or the amount of treasure they own doesn’t change anything about your possessive punctuation.

sora returns light
Sora returned light to the Disney characters’ worlds. (There are multiple Disney characters from different worlds)
wizards brooms are fast
The wizards’ brooms were fast. (There are multiple wizards and they own fast brooms)
heroes powers

Link borrowed the ancient heroes’ powers to save the princess. (There are multiple ancient heroes who have powers)
team rocket
Team Rocket always tried to steal Ash‘s many pokemon. (There is only one Ash and he owns many pokemon)

Awesome. Now we’ve laid out the grammar for a single owner, many owners, and owners of many things. But what about times that you’re using collective nouns (words that represent a group such as people, children, and team)?

There is a Group Owner

Ok, saving this one for the end was a little like a trick question on a pop quiz. When you are working with collective nouns, you just treat the collective noun like a single owner:

digimon protectors
The children‘s digimon partners protected them from evil. (collective noun: children)
The team‘s hard training efforts really paid off and they won the game. (collective noun: team)

Not to make this more complicated than it needs to be, but keep in mind that sometimes, you can have plural collective nouns (you have multiple of a collective noun like many teams), and then you just use the plural possession rules like so:

The teams’ captains carried their nations’ flags into the crowded Olympics stadium. (There are many teams, and there are also many nations) [Photo credit: The New York Times, James Hill, 2016]


Questions? Need more examples? Want to make sure you’re understanding it completely? Share in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact” page.

And as always, if you have a literary device or grammar rule you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!

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