That odd plural apostrophe: a simple way to figure it out

People often come to me asking whether an apostrophe is needed for a plural word. It’s always in relation to that slightly odd time-, money- or distance-based possessive apostrophe. Three months pregnant; two hours’ respite; four pounds’ worth. Etc.

The rule is difficult to explain in grammatical terms. Language has evolved such that there are inconsistencies. Technically, all of the above should carry an apostrophe: pregnant by three months; respite of two hours; to the value of four pounds.

But modern usage must be adhered to.

So. The best way to figure it out is to make it singular. If the singular version needs an S, then it needs an apostrophe, as does its plural equivalent. If it doesn’t, then you shouldn’t use an apostrophe.

  • One month pregnant. An S would be madness. So no need for an apostrophe: three months pregnant
  • One hour’s respite. The S is needed. And so we need an apostrophe: two hours’ respite
  • One pound’s worth. The S is again needed. And so we need an apostrophe: four pounds’ worth.

Of course when used, the apostrophe needs to go in its normal position, which will depend on whether you’re in plural or singular mode.

Posted by Dan, 9 April, 2014 under Rules


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