Putting your apostrophes in the right places on those ubiquitous carved wooden Welcome Signs is pretty easy once you know the rules. There is no greater motivation than having all those grammatical fuddy-duddies think better of you, either! But, before examining the rules for the apostrophes use and how its literary status has earned it’s reputation, I want to make one thing really clear…I’m writing this to be helpful – that’s all. I couldn’t care less if you get your apostrophes wrong. There are plenty more important things in life and nature to get on a soap box over! Besides, this stuff (and the rules) is not written in granite!
The apostrophe has four primary uses: possession, omission (contractions), plurals, & phrases of time or measure; however, when it comes to knowing how best to create proper identification on Personalized Welcome Signs we’ll focus on the mystery of the possessive and plurals business only – time and omissions wait for no man! At the most basic level, if you need to make a possessive, turn the phrase around and make it an "of the..." phrase. For example: the man’s hat = the hat of the man; or, three days' trip = trip of three days. Once it’s been determined that you need to make a possessive, here’s the rules to create one: add 's to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s) like the neighbor’s car or Louis's hat. Add 's to the plural forms that do not end in –s like, the children's toys and the moose’s whistle. Add just the ' to the end of plural nouns that end in –s like, houses' decks and three dogs’ tails. Add 's to the end of compound words like, my mother-in-law's comments. Finally, add 's to the last of compound nouns to show joint possession of an object like, Thom & Elaine’s house.
And, of course a few exceptions (as shocked as I am sure you are!): Some words sound awkward when an apostrophe 's' is added, like Jesus's disciples, so the accepted form is to just use the 's' apostrophe: Jesus' disciples. Interestingly enough, this only applies to names of Biblical or historical significance e.g. Jesus, Moses, Ramses…Moses' followers, Ramses' pyramid. Still others don't have a clutsy sound, like the princess's bed. Just be consistent! Although it may be worth noting that some “experts will say something like, “…words ending with an s present a problem. There are two valid options in this case. It is either Jesus' teaching or Jesus's teaching. Elegance would seem to preclude the latter….” See what I mean about being consistent!
The confusion really arises when the apostrophe is used with a plural noun – The vipers’ den…more than one snake in that den so the s’ – the den of the vipers! Generally speaking, if there's one owner - add an apostrophe and then 's' and if there are two or more owners - add 's' then an apostrophe.
For words which form their plural by changing internal letters (instead of adding 's'), like the children’s table…it’s already plural – we don’t pile it on! It’s the same with words people, women…and so on. When using names that end in S, you follow the same rules as with any other name and add apostrophe S: Thomas’s car. Plural names also follow the same rules: Thomases’ house (add -es to names that end in S to indicate plural form). For anyone else whose name ends in S, you generally let your ear be your guide. If Lars's house sounds awkward, feel free to omit the final S. The only rule in this case is that you must (MUST) be consistent. You can't have Lars' two-car garage then Lars's property. On a Welcome Sign – it’s just not going to happen!
This whole business of Apostrophological Anomalies (I can’t believe I used that again!) stirs passionately among some folks, and there have been whole sub-cultures formed to lobby for the universal observance of the mystery of the apostrophe. I am not of that belief set; I’m just a sign guy; however, I'm pretty sensitive about getting these things right. I think all you really have to ask yourself is, “Does my sign refer to the object to which it’s attached, Larson’s Cabin?” And then, is it the whole gangs’ cabin? Either way, I just don’t think it’s grammatical its, “Apostrophological!”