Poor apostrophes; they get abused all the time. I get so mad about it, I actually dreamed up a teen girl/grammar nerd who runs around town defacing poorly-punctuated campaign signs. (My deepest, darkest desire is to do what she does.) RJ Haynes will have none of misplaced apostrophes in my latest book, No Pigs in This Parlor.
As an English teacher, I’m always down for a grammar lesson. Here are the confusing apostrophe situations where RJ really shouldn’t get on her high horse–or hog.
Let’s say Greg and Lyn and Sonny live in a house. Their last name happens to be Hawks. Outside in the tall pines and hickory trees all around, dwell hawks in their nests. When talking about the house where Greg and Lyn and Sonny live, where doth the Apostrophe go?
- It could be Hawks’ Nest if our house belongs to the birds. If you’ve ever seen a hawk dive for a rodent, then you would do well to respect the power of these creatures. You might even conclude that they own our land. So whether avian nest or human nest, you might say, Sure, it kinda is the Hawks’ Nest.
- Or, it could be the Hawkses’ Nest if Greg and I co-own it, which we do. But who likes the sound of Hawks-ES? I’m cringing at the thought of saying it aloud. Since a surname ending in -s like Hawks must take an -es at the end–an inviolable apostrophe rule that regularly gets violated on holiday cards (see below)–and since I’m an English teacher, I can’t ignore how last names are supposed to behave around possession and apostrophes. So what’s a Grammar Girl to do?
- Two step around that -es: that’s what! See, it could be the Hawks Nest if “Hawks” functions as an adjective–a descriptor of the place. This move would follow the lead of the Associated Press, which advises no apostrophe in phrases such as “farmers market.” The farmers don’t technically own the market, but they’re all there. It’s the same as “owners manual” for your car. It’s not like all the owners out there own the same manual…
- But, you say, Lyn and Greg and Sonny really do own the place (especially Sonny), so Lyn, be right. Be brave. Just write “Hawkses’ Nest” in your newsletter!
Sorry. I can’t. I’ll live in Descriptor Land instead.
My rationale: In my world, this is a home populated by Hawkses, which gives the home Hawks-like qualities. It’s whimsical to say that our house, and we, are even dwelling in a nest, so therefore I declare it a nest with Hawksian features? As in country-Americana-musician-young-adult-author-and-obnoxious-orange-tabby qualities? That is the essence of a Hawks Nest.
It’s okay if you ain’t. You’re not alone.
Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in S when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide,” instructs the Associated Press Stylebook.
It’s a subtle distinction that leaves a lot of room for disagreement. One writer might think that a farmers market is all about the farmers, while another writer might feel that the market itself is the farmers’. Neither is right or wrong.– June Casagrande, “A Word, Please: Solving the case of the missing apostrophe.”
Here are the no-brainers. If you’re doing your holiday cards, hold on that apostrophe if you’re just sending season’s greetings. Do not ever ever ever say MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE SMITH’S because we have no idea why only one Smith is referring to himself as “The Smith” and what in the world he owns (maybe divorce papers?)–that he’s for some reason, refusing to mention, maybe because he was a very bad dude this year?
I don’t know; I’m a novelist, and when I see grammar crime I must invent reasons for the apostrophe abuse.
Us Hawkses, we’d go with HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE HAWKS FAMILY on our cards, if we had to get our name in there, but we just say, HAPPY HOLIDAYS and make room for other things. To each their own.
How I love this Grammar Goddess, Heather Nianouris, who feels my pain on the -s and -es issues. Check out her PSA video to share with those who sling their apostrophes around.
Trust me, if you’re ever in NC, I will welcome you into our humble abode, no matter whether you say it is: Hawkses’ Nest or Hawks’ Nest or Hawks Nest. All are welcome here.
Just don’t proofread my stuff.