Once upon a time I had trouble grasping its nuanced applications but still, and hypocritical as it may seem, misuse of the possessive apostrophe frustrates the shit out of me.
Recently I stumbled upon a Facebook excerpt: love you’s both endlessly
At first I smiled, then I choked; after that I think I tasted bile.
For a start, yous, is not a word – it’s not a pronoun, it’s not a noun, it’s not multiple nouns, it’s not anything (and for the record, those just back there, they were regular apostrophes to denote the missing of a letter – in the case of it’s, it’s the letter ‘i’ – as in, it is). Slipping in, what I can only imagine, is a possessive apostrophe, certainly makes ‘yous’ no more of a word, anyway…
Also, back up there, right on that first line; ‘Once upon a time’, what the hell is that? I mean, pretty sure I recognise each word individually but, in a sentence, they scarcely seem to make sense. Look at this, we’ll break it down: ‘Once’ is an adverb, it adds to a verb – he (pronoun) vomited (verb) once (adverb) – it’s one, sole, singular. ‘Upon’ is a preposition, a pre-position – also it’s a compound word – up on. ‘A’ is a pronoun, denoting something, and don’t you Facebook fiends dare try using it with a possessive either (because as you’ll see there ain’t no room – as there is additionally none for my ghastly double negative). ‘Time’ is an abstract noun (‘abstract’ because it’s not tangible), it’s ultimately indicative of when that something (Once upon a time) occurred.
…Possessive apostrophes, admittedly, can be difficult. They denote ownership, for example, Tim Walker’s Pedantic, which in this case means it is my article because I wrote it; it definitely does not mean ‘Tim Walker(is) Pedantic’, because that would just be silly and wholly outrageous…
Once Upon a Time there was a hackneyed way to start children’s storybooks (possessive in children’s, because it is the children who own the books) that was so widely used it became practically the only way to begin one of these old stories (no apostrophe, it’s a simple plural, hence the ‘y’ in ‘story’, along with the ‘s’ to indicate the plural, become ‘ies’); this despite the phrase ‘Once Upon a Time’ (and, although they might look the same as possessive apostrophes, those were actually inverted commas – see, ‘inverted commas’ – used to isolate and/or denote/differentiate a term’s meaning).
…That’s all reasonably straightforward stuff though, isn’t it – a possessive is used to denote ownership – it’s when you start getting into plurals of possessives that things can become complicated. Most people, seemingly, either don’t understand the ‘plural possessive’ rule or they simply can’t be bothered with it although, whatever side you choose to take, here it is…
Once Upon a Time there was a silly little boy named Tim Walker. He liked cats a lot. He had a lot of cats. Yet none of Tim Walker’s cats (possessive, as the cats are owned by Tim Walker) liked him very much. Tim Walker’s family (possessive, again singular, there is still only one of him) were all Walkers too (no possessive at all, nothing here is being owned, it’s just a regular plural), and they didn’t much care for Tim’s cats (possessive, singular, only one Tim). In fact, they liked Tim’s (possessive, singular) cats (none) about the same amount as those cats (again, basic plural, no need for possessive) disliked Tim. One day Tim was feeding his cats (again, no possessive). He reached down and picked up the cats’ bowl (possessive, plural; apostrophe this time coming after the ‘s’, indicating the bowl is owned by multiple cats), then carefully opened the cat-food tin’s lid (possessive, singular, there is only one cat-food tin). The rest of the Walkers then appeared (no possessive, nothing is owned), riding in the Walkers’ big station wagon (possessive, plural, as the car is owned by all the Walkers), with Mr Walker’s big voice (possessive, singular, as it’s his voice only) booming over the land.
…Ultimately, the ruling, as suggested by Tim Walker – formally qualified to proofread, edit and, by implication but perhaps less-so, write stuff – if you don’t know how to properly use a possessive apostrophe, please, better you don’t use one at all.
It’s just that, for those people who do understand their usage, a sentence devoid of possessives is much less frustrating to see than the unnecessary inclusion of one.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Ana Nessy-Sari
Photography by Poe Zissa Sieve