How to Use a Possessive Apostrophe

a pink parrot below: s's

A possessive is a word that ends with an apostrophe and an S that shows someone or something possesses (has or owns) something. There are several rules involving possessives. So, in this post, we’re going to clear up any confusion by breaking down all of the ways a possessive apostrophe and S can behave.

Singular noun
This one’s pretty simple—just add an apostrophe and an S to the end of the noun. (PS: People’s names are nouns.)

John’s bedroom is blue.
The cat’s bedroom is red.

Singular noun ending in S
The same rule usually applies if the singular noun ends in an S.

Jess’s room is green.
James’s house is nicer.

(Beware! Some style guides don’t use the last S in this situation; they end the word with the apostrophe. If you’re writing for a business or publication, you’ll want to check their rules about this.)

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Plural noun
This is treated the same as a singular noun. Just add an apostrophe and an S to the end.

The children’s bedrooms are on the second floor.
The sheep’s bedroom is in the barn.

Plural noun ending in S
In this case, you only add an apostrophe to the end of the word.  No S.

The parents’ bedroom is above the kitchen.
The kittens’ bowls of milk are by the door.

Make sure you check that all your apostrophes and S’s are in the right place—sometimes they’re very sneaky!

This post was written by Erin Servais and Maud Grauer of Dot and Dash, an author-services company focusing on women authors.

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How to Use a Coordinating Conjunction with a Comma in a Sentence

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So

Coordinating conjunctions often connect two complete thoughts in a sentence. You can remember these words by the acronym FANBOYS, which stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So.

Let’s go over that by looking at this formula:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

Here’s what that looks like in a sentence:

The cat ate the pizza, and she thought it tasted good.

“The cate at the pizza” is a complete thought, and “she thought it tasted good” is a complete thought (note that they could both stand on their own as separate sentences). The coordinating conjunction “and” joined the two complete thoughts.

Do you notice anything else about the sentence? A comma goes before the coordinating conjunction when it separates two complete thoughts. That’s the last part of our formula. Now it looks like this:

COMPLETE THOUGHT + COMMA + FANBOYS + COMPLETE THOUGHT.

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Let’s look at examples for each of the FANBOYS:

For: The cat ate the pizza, for she was hungry.

And: The cat went to the restaurant, and she ate the pizza.

Nor: The cat does not like pineapple pizza, nor does she like mushroom pizza.

But: The cat doesn’t like mushroom pizza, but she ate it because it was free.

Or: The cat could eat pizza, or she could eat tacos.

Yet: The cat went to the restaurant, yet she could have had a pizza delivered.

So: The cat was really hungry, so she ate four slices of pizza.

To sum up: FANBOYS are words (called “coordinating conjunctions”) that often join two complete thoughts into one sentence. A comma goes before FANBOYS in this situation.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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Ho Ho How Do You Punctuate That?

santa

It’s getting to be that time of year when children close their eyes and fantasize about an old, fat man breaking into their house while they sleep naïvely in false security in their bedrooms.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the man says to himself as he places consumer goods under a tree that for some reason has been moved to their living room.

Wait. Perhaps he says “Ho ho ho!” instead. Just how many exclamation points does this slavemaster of reindeer use?

Let’s turn to the authorities. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 10.24.56 AM.png

There you have it. Three hos and one exclamation point.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas (etc.) to you!

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Compound Modifiers with Words Ending in -ly

doughnuts with pink and blue accents

We’re also talking about doughnuts today because why wouldn’t we?

A compound modifier consists of two words that act together as one unit to modify a noun.

Here are some examples:

The sweet-smelling doughnut made my tummy grumble.
(Here sweet and smelling work as one unit to describe the noun doughnut.)

He had to wash his mud-covered ninja outfit.
(Mud and covered work together to explain the noun outfit.)

Their favorite wand was the glitter-speckled one.
(Glitter and speckled are one unit modifying the noun one.)

You’ll notice that in the examples above, all of the word sets are hyphenated: sweet-smelling, mud-covered, glitter-speckled. But there are times when the word sets aren’t hyphenated.

Compound Modifiers Ending in -ly
Compound modifiers that include an adverb ending in the suffix -ly do not get hyphenated. Why is this? Here is how The Chicago Manual of Style (the rulebook people use to edit books) explains it in section 7.86:

Compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible. (The -ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun.)

For the non-editors reading this, what that means is the reader will know instinctually that the word coming after the -ly is working with the -ly word to describe something. So it doesn’t need the hyphen to help readers understand it is a word pair.

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Now let’s look at some examples:

The cowboy sauntered into the dimly lit saloon.
(Dimly and lit both work together to explain saloon. But since dimly ends in -ly, it doesn’t use a hyphen. A reader should automatically understand lit goes with dimly.)

The professor’s terrifyingly large stack of papers to grade made him anxious.
(Here terrifyingly and large work together but do not require a hyphen to link them.)

His awkwardly long tie made people question his fashion sense.
(Awkwardly works with long and does not need a hyphen.)

Now you know when to use your trusty hyphen with compound modifiers. Go forth and hyphenate correctly!

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of book editing, author coaching, and social media packages.

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Quotation Marks Within Quotation Marks

When you’re working with only one set of quotation marks, using them is simple. In American English, just surround the sentence or words in double quote marks.

Example:
Hannibal said, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Quotes within quotes
When you have a quote within a quote, begin and end the main quote with double quotation marks. Surround the quote within a quote with single quotation marks.

Example:
Ronald said, “I can’t believe Hannibal said, ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.’”

Note that the period goes before all three final quotation marks and that there is no space between the single quote mark and the double quote marks.

Here’s how it would look if the main quote continues after the quote within a quote:

Ronald said, “I can’t believe Hannibal said, ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.’ That really creeped me out.”

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Works of art
If a quote has reference to a title of a work of art that requires quotation marks (and not italics), the title also uses single quotation marks. (For a refresher on which require quote marks and which require italics, click here.)

Example:
Hannibal said, “I heard Ronald’s favorite song is ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Rolling Stones.”

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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