Apostrophes in English: Millers’ Store or Miller’s Store

Some people get confused with apostrophes. There are a lot of puzzling rules which are not easy to remember. If the Millers family owned a store, would it be right to say “Millers’ Store” or “Miller’s Store”?

But don’t worry! Apostrophes do cause a lot of confusion for everyone. In fact, even native speakers make mistakes.

First, remember that apostrophes have two uses: (1) to show possession and (2) to form contractions. Words such as “don’t” and “can’t” are contractions. A contraction is two common words put together to form one word – for example “Don’t” is short for “do not” and “can’t” is short for “can not.” Apostrophe is also used for a contraction of a set of numbers – for example ’60 simply means 1960. In contraction, one or more letters or numbers is omitted and the apostrophe shows this omission. Here are some examples:
can’t = can not
I’m = I am
he’ll = he will
where’s = where is

Contractions are easy to use and make these common words faster to write and to say. However, just keep in mind that contractions are not appropriate for academic papers or in official documents. It is only common in speaking and in informal writing.

Many non-native speakers confuse its and it’s. Remember that “its” is a possessive, which we will discuss later, and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.”

Our example about the Millers family deals with possessives – not contractions. Possessives show ownership, such as Tom’s car, teacher’s desk or Japan’s leaders. To form a possessive noun, you use an apostrophe and an s (–‘s).

The reason why the Millers family example causes confusion is because of plurals. As many of us probably know, plural means more than one, while singular means just one. When plural words end in –s, forming the possessive becomes confusing.

Generally, you put an apostrophe then –s (‘s) at the end of a singular word to show possession. If the singular word ends in –s already, such as glass, then many people will add the –‘s to form glass’s, as in the glass’s rim. But don’t be surprised if you also see cases where people don’t add an extra –s. For some people, having the extra –s is too much. For example, people disagree about the possessive form of Chris. For some it is Chris’s and for others it’s Chris’. Personally, if I find a case like this, I prefer Chris’s since it reflects how it is pronounced.

This only applies to cases where the letter –s is used at the end, not the sound /s/ that can be spelled with –ce at the end – as in terrace. Then you would add the ‘s to make terrace’s every time.

Now, for plurals the situation is a little bit different. Since most plural words already end in –s, we don’t add another –s after the possession apostrophe. For example, cars become cars’, books become books’ and houses become houses’.

But you do add an –s when the plural does not end in –s. For example: children (plural) will become children’s (possessive).

For our example, I would rather to assume that Millers’ is the correct form. Miller is a common family name, and the store would be owned by the family collectively, so they would use the plural form. Then, to make it possessive, they add the apostrophe without an extra –s since it is plural already: Millers’ Store.

I suggest you look at real world examples. You will quickly see some variation even among native speakers. This shows how language is always a little fluid, changing with the preferences and educational cultures of the speakers. As English is used by native and non-native speakers worldwide, you can expect variety and disagreement about the rules to keep things interesting.

Kursus Bahasa Inggris EF English First

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