Grammar Repair Shop: When is a possessive not a possessive? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Grammar Repair Shop: When is a possessive not a possessive?

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Problem: Reader Judy Woodliff asked us whether "elders retreat" should carry an apostrophe after the "s" in "elders" to make it possessive.

Lesson: It depends on the function of the word "elders." Because it's being used in a descriptive form rather than a possessive form (It's a retreat for elders, not belonging to elders), "elders retreat"—no apostrophe—would be correct.

Other examples: Teachers college (a college for teachers, not owned by teachers), vacationers paradise.

Exceptions: Irregular plural nouns—those not ending in "s"—often still require an apostrophe "s" to appear correct. Example: "women's conference," not "womens conference."

Peeved by a common error? Puzzled by perplexing grammar rules? Send us an e-mail at with the subject "Grammar." Or call us at (703) 905-4850.

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