By Neel Anil Panicker

Ask any student what is the one thing that bugs him no end when it comes to correcting errors in English Grammar and the answer more often than not would revolve around their tribulations in trying to figure out whether a particular word requires an apostrophe or not and, more beguilingly, in that case, where exactly is one to place it.
English Grammar is a great leveler: students the world over, and more so, if they come from the Southern Hemisphere and, especially from India, perennially battle with the nightmarish conundrum: to possess or not.
A myriad questions assail their minds and a multitude of doubts occupy a large part of their precious study times__hours that they would otherwise have very well spent more judiciously elsewhere.
This heightened sense of anxiety increases manifold if they happen to be preparing to sit for any one of the multitude of entrance tests that are de rigueur if one aspires to get through into that dream B-school, institute, or for that matter, even bagging that much coveted job.
So it was not entirely out of line when, the other day, one such student walked upto to me and inquired as to what would be the appropriate way to fix errors in the usage of apostrophes.
I asked him what specifically was troubling him.
To which his reply was thus:
“Sir, I get confused whether we should say ‘ Charles’es or Charles’s or plain Charles’ when referring to an activity of a guy called Charles?”
A harmless enough question but still a question tricky enough for many who find themselves scratching their heads in exasperation with a few even proceeding to furiously chew off their fast shortening nails.
Intently watching this rather clumsy display of discomfort and utter helplessness, I was reminded of what that great English statesman said in a radio broadcast at the start of the Second World War when asked about the Russians.
He said, and I quote, “ It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
But then he went on to say that perhaps there is a key, and that key is “Russian national interest”.

Much like the great statesman who was is England’s greatest war time leader, having successfully completed two terms as United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, hauling his country over from the jaws of certain defeat, I too proposed a key to solve all students’ queries when it comes to decoding the mystery behind the apostrophe.
Here’s what I told the flummoxed student.
Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding‘s.
Remember: follow the above rule whatever be the final consonant.
So, it will be :
Xess’s friend came to meet me.
Drakes’s got a new car
Charles’s wife is very cultured.
Of, course, I added, as with all other rules of STANDARD WRITTEN ENGLISH GRAMMAR, exceptions will always exist.
1. Possessives of ancient Proper Names ending in –es and –is.
2. Possessives of ‘one of a kind’ personalities including revered figures
3. Possessives of certain abstracts

So, we never write Jesuse’s disciples but instead, Jesus’ disciples
And it would be better to write the Laws of Moses rather than Moses’ Laws and by the same token Isis’ Temple should be replaced as The Temple of Isis.

Also it be worth one’s while to remember that the Pronominal Possessives such as hers, its, theirs, yours and ours don’t taken an apostrophe.

A point to be noted here is that all Indefinite Pronouns such as one, someone, anyone, everyone et al do take an apostrophe to show possession.

a. It is one’s responsibility to
b. This is not mine but hers
c. Ours is a very tolerant country
d. We should not be scolded for somebody’s mistakes.

Another grammatical rule that rattles many a student is the use or should I say misuse of the possessive when it comes to the Third Person Personal Pronoun it.

Often I have seen students writing its when what they meant is it’s, or vice versa.
RULE 2: Use Its only as a possessive
It’s is a contraction of the expansion it is. The two mean one and the same.
EXAMPLE: It’s a wise lion that successfully hunts down its prey.
A gerund is a verb with an “ing” on it that functions as a noun.
The trouble comes when there is a noun or a pronoun before the gerund: do you make that word possessive or not?
Very often, it depends on what you are trying to get across.

Here are some examples of sentences containing gerunds:

Mukesh/Mukesh’s going to Simla was a disaster.

The woman /woman’s hitting her attacker was awesome to watch.

Neil Armstrong/Neil Armstrong’s walking in space changed the world forever.

I am worried about my friend/friend’s riding a motorcycle.

With my friend/friend’s being in the hospital (as a result of a motorcycle accident), I cannot make it to the wedding.

To determine which of these sentences need the possessive case, do the following:

*If the noun is the main idea of the sentence, keep it a regular (common) noun.

* If the gerund clause is the main idea of the sentence, make the noun possessive.

Let’s apply the above mentioned examples:

Mukesh/Mukesh’s going to Simla was a disaster. Now the question is was Mukesh a disaster or was his going to Simla a disaster?
Going to Simla was, and therefore, use Mukesh’s and not Mukesh.

The woman/woman’s hitting her attacker was awesome to watch.
But then what’s awesome to watch – the hitting or the woman?
If you want to watch the hitting, use the possessive case.
If you want to watch the woman, use “woman.”

Neil Armstrong/Neil Armstrong’s walking in space changed the world forever.

If walking in space changed the world forever, use “Armstrong’s”;
if Armstrong himself changed the world forever, use “Neil Armstrong”.

Nailing the Gerund
I’m worried about my friend//friend’s riding a motorcycle. If you’re worried about your friend no matter what he does, use “friend.”

If you’re absolutely okay about your friend except when he rides a motorcycle, use the possessive case.

With my friend/friend’s being in the hospital (as a result of a motorcycle accident), I cannot make it to the wedding.
Because the situation of being in the hospital is the reason I can’t make it to the wedding, say “friend’s” here.

If the noun preceding the gerund is collective, abstract, or plural, don’t use possessive case.
*The team working on the project together was a beautiful sight to behold.
*I’m worried about it coming back to haunt me.
* The prisoners making the rules in jail is not a good idea.

Nouns being in the plural trumps the possessive gerund rule. By the way, if “nouns” were the main idea, the verb would be “trump.”

If the noun preceding the gerund is itself preceded by other nouns, or is made up of
many words, use the common noun.

*I was utterly shocked by Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministerial colleagues.

Here, “the chief minister” (the word or term preceding the gerund) is preceded by a Proper Noun, i.e., Arvind Kejriwal.

Add ‘s to the end of plural nouns that end in –s.
*Rooms’ tables
*Five ministers’ resignations

Add ‘s to the end of compound words:
My father-in-law’s humility

Add ‘s to the end noun to show joint possession of an inanimate.

*Priyanka and Robert’s bungalow

Do not use an apostrophe for the following possessive pronouns and adjectives

His, hers, Yours, ours, its, theirs, and whose

If the noun is plural, the apostrophe follows the s

They eyed others’ lovers.

Use an apostrophe to show omission of letters in contractions

*she is > she’s

*Here are > here’re
* where is > where’s
* would not> wouldn’t
* she should> she’d
* had not> hadn’t

RULE NO. 10:
Use an apostrophe when you want to show omission of letters in phrases and numbers
*Five o’clock
* the class of ‘95
* India became independent in ’47.

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