Apostrophe: Descriptive or Possessive?

If you are a golfer or a fan, you probably know that the Presidents Cup was played in New Jersey from Sept. 26–Oct. 1. The United States team handily won the coveted cup.

You might wonder why there is no apostrophe in the event’s title. Why isn’t it President’s Cup or Presidents’ Cup?

Here’s the reason:

Some words that might appear to be possessive are simply descriptive. Neither the Presidents Cup as an event nor the cup as an award denotes that any president possesses or owns it.

Here are other examples of descriptive terms that might tempt you to add an apostrophe (or spellcheck might erroneously suggest an apostrophe):

The doctor walked to the nurses station to check the patient’s chart.
(Not nurse’s or nurses’ station: Nurses don’t own the station; they work there.)

Do you belong to a Mac users group?
(Not user’s or users’ group: Users don’t own the group; they participate in it.)

Beth first attended a teachers college, but she finished her training at a university.
(Not reacher’s or teachers’ college: Teachers don’t own the college; they attend classes there.)

This guideline helps you decide:

An apostrophe usually is not needed if for rather than of would fit the sentence.

It is a station for nurses, a group for Mac users, a college for teachers.

Consider these examples:

He attends writers guild meetings monthly.
(The guild is for writers.)

Peter Carroll is the Seattle Seahawks coach.
(Carroll is the coach for the Seahawks)

You can enter an apprenticeship program with Carpenters Union Local 305.
(The carpenters union exists for people in that trade.)

Apostrophes with Family Names
Use care with family names when making a sign to display on your home or when addressing or signing a greeting card. When you want to express your last name as plural so it includes all family members, skip the apostrophe.

The Smiths | The Joneses | The Churches | The Rodriguezes | The Maddoxes | The Bushes

Again, don’t count on silly spellcheck for guidance on apostrophe use in these cases. The program is not good at deciphering the difference between possession and description.

Please share this with others who might have interest in or who would benefit from the information and examples.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)