Even Simple Apostrophe Can Be Complicated

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 7, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Even Simple Apostrophe Can Be Complicated


A thoughtful reader recently wondered in an e-mail correspondence how our writers distinguish the punctuation in such phrases as Cubs season and Cubs GM Jim Hendry or White Sox dugout and White Sox fans.

How, she wondered, do we determine when to use the apostrophe?

It may surprise you to know that we think about such things though, sadly, sometimes no amount of thinking can produce a clear resolution.

Heres what the AP Stylebook has to say about the distinction:

"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.

Memory Aid: The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters."

Seems simple enough, right? That is, until you consider certain specific phrases. A case could be made, for example, for either side in some of APs own citations. The Teamsters request, that is a request by the Teamsters, might just as easily and correctly be the Teamsters request, a request of the Teamsters.

Veterans Day is a particularly interesting case. Is it a day for veterans or a day belonging to veterans? Is it a day to honor veterans or to honor the veteran? Depending on how you look at it, you could correctly punctuate it as Veterans Day, Veterans Day or Veterans Day. The official title, and AP preferred, is without the apostrophe: Veterans Day.

OK, fine. Then what about Valentines Day? Is it a day of St. Valentine, hence Valentines Day? Or for valentines and thus Valentines Day?

Sports examples are especially problematic and commonplace.

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