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Write the Right Word: Possessive vs. Descriptive Phrase

The difference between a possessive and a descriptive phrase is that the first takes an apostrophe when you add an “s” and the second does not.

You must add “’s” when you are indicating that something belongs to someone or something. For example: “We found five of the neighbor’s cows in our pasture.” Or this: “The cat’s paws were very muddy.”

However, you do not need to add an apostrophe to a word ending in “s” when that word is being used in a descriptive sense. For example: “The new leaders guide will be available next month.” Or this: “We agreed to the Elks request for funding.”

Here’s a good way to determine whether you need an apostrophe: You don’t need it if you can rewrite the sentence and use the words “by” or “for.” Because you could say “the new guide for leaders” or the “request by the Elks,” you wouldn’t need an apostrophe.

Another test is whether the item belongs to someone or something. The guide doesn’t belong to the leaders and the request doesn’t belong to the Elks.

Ellen Crawford, information specialist, (701) 231-5391

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