That Confusing “S”

The last post on the “s” engendered more than a few questions. Here are a couple of answers.

In the construction, “…one of the girl’s/girls’ phones…” or “…one of the voter’s/voters’ choices…,” the form should be plural possessive.

…We were talking with one of the girls’ friends at the time.
…It has to deal with one of his friends’ mothers.

Awkward!! Ugly!! But it is correct.


There is variation in the rules that are taught (and found in books) regarding the formation of possessives.

I think this works as there are no exceptions for any word in the language, no matter what the word ends in or how it is pronounced.

Singular Possessive: Make a word singular possessive by adding an apostrophe “s” to the singular form of the word. All words, including words and names that end in “s,” follow this rule.

…I drove Ms. Ellis’s new car.
…We were seated with Mr. Sanchez’s son.
…She wrote to Mr. Hopkins’s attorney.

(Yes, there may be a problem with pronunciation. I recommend that you follow the rule and not the pronunciation in order to avoid having two different forms of the same word; however, some of you may disagree. It is an editorial decision on your part.)

Plural Possessive: To make a word that ends in “s” plural possessive, add just the apostrophe. If the plural form does not end in “s,” add apostrophe “s.” Be sure to make the word plural first.

…I drove the Ellises’ new car.
…We were seated with the Sanchezes’ son.
…She wrote to the Hopkinses’ attorney.

…She writes children’s books.
…It is in the men’s department.

Happy punctuating!


That Confusing “S”

When a proper name ends in “s” and we have to make it plural or possessive, it seems it is always a bit jarring.

There are several things to keep in mind:

First, when a surname has the word “the” in front of it, it is always plural.

…I saw the Cohens when I visited D.C.
…The Johnsons joined us for dinner.

Second, when a surname ends in “s,” the plural form adds “es.”

…I saw the Joneses when I visited D.C.
…The Hollises joined us for dinner.

Third, when making a surname that ends in “s” plural possessive, make the name plural first; then add the apostrophe.

…It is difficult to believe the Wilsons’ story.
…It is difficult to believe the McIntyres’ story.

…I rode with them in the Rosses’ car.
…I rode with them in the Hodgeses’ car.

When using a surname as an adjective, there are two equally correct ways to say it.

…He is currently living in the Nelson house.
…He is currently living in the Nelsons’ house.

…He is currently living in the Wells house.
…He is currently living in the Wellses’ house.

The distinction in the latter case is often diffcult to hear and particularly so when the next word begins with an “s.” Think “passenger side” versus “passenger’s side.”

(And, of course, I have to point out that I married my wonderful husband in part so that I would have that really cool name to use in these examples.)

Happy punctuating!


20-Hour Punctuation Class Begins Sunday

Good morning.

Just a reminder that I am beginning a 20-hour punctuation class this coming Sunday. The ten two-hour class sessions will meet on Saturdays and/or Sundays and continue into June.

This is your chance to pull all of those rules together and better understand how everything goes together. There will be a question-and-answer time in each session to discuss those burning transcript questions.

The class has been prequalified by NCRA for CEUs.

Go to to register.

Happy punctuating!


A Little-Known Dash Rule

Besides using the dash for interruptions (broken sentence structure), there are some grammar rules that govern the use of the dash.

When a pronoun refers back to one noun, use a comma in front of the pronoun; when a pronoun refers back to several nouns, use a dash in front of the pronoun.

…We received several letters, each of which I answered.
…We received letters, cards, and emails — each of which I answered.

…I sent it to three friends, all of whom I expected to attend.
…I sent it to Ray, Anita, and Roxanne — all of whom I expected to attend.

Happy punctuating!


Sentences Joined by “And”

If there are several sentences that have a coordinate conjunction between them — usually this is the word “and” — it is correct to put a comma before the coordinate conjunction, the “and.” There seems to be some discussion that, when there is a string of these sentences, there is no need for the commas. I know of no such rule.

This is often called a “narrative,” which features several sentences strung together with “and.”

After two or three sentences like this, it is best to use a period and start the next sentence with “and.” And after six or eight lines, there should be a paragraph, which, yes, begins with “and.”

The Idea of “Essential”

As I have stated on other occasions, there is widespread confusion or perhaps lack of understanding of what the terms “essential” and “nonessential” mean in punctuation.

I would say again: Putting a pair of commas around an element does not always mean that you can take it out of the sentence and have the sentence make sense. In other words, not all pairs of commas surround a “nonessential” element. You cannot always remove an element that is surrounded by commas and have the sentence make sense.


…He lived in Springfield, Ohio, and not in Springfield, Illinois, during that period of time.
…She called on May 24, 2015, and not on May 24, 2016, with the news.

Removing the elements that are surrounded by commas in these setnences would leave the sentences without meaning. However, that does not mean that we take the commas out. The commas are there in each sentence because there is a rule that the state be surrounded by commas after the city and that the year be surrounded by commas after the full date.

Consider this scenario:

…I want you to have 40 percent, Mr. Roberts, and you to have 25 percent, Mr. Williams.

Again, if we remove the names because they are surrounded by commas and are therefore “nonessential,” the sentence loses clarity. We surround direct address with a pair of commas without regard to whether that name is vital to the meaning of the sentence or not.

In summary, not all pairs of commas are placed/not placed because of the concept of essential/nonessential. In fact, many pairs of commas are placed around elements that are absolutely necessary to the meaning of the sentence but have commas because there is a rule for those commas.

I hope this helps.

Happy punctuating!


What to Do When Punctuation Is Said

When someone says the word for the punctuation mark, the decision about whether to put the word into the transcript or just the punctuation mark itself is really an editorial decision on the part of the reporter.

A person says: “It is the, cap, First, cap, Amendment discussion that is important.”
A person is reading from a document and says: “On the 15th of the month,” comma, “the surgery was performed.” [This sentence could be punctuated with a pair of dashes to set off the word “comma.”]

Whether to put in the word that was said or just the punctuation it stands for is an editorial decision on the part of the reporter. Maybe the question is “How verbatim do you think you need to be?”

There is justification in English for doing it either way.

Happy punctuating!



Since parentheses indicate that the material inside the parens is less important than the information around it, we do not use parens to punctuation what is being said in a transcript.

When there is a “blurb” inside parentheses, there are standard English rules that cover what needs to be done.

If what is inside the parens is a complete grammatical sentence,

  • cap the first word of the sentence.
  • put punctuation inside the parens.

…Q  Where did it hit you?
…A  (Indicating.)

If what is inside the parens is a fragment and part of a larger thought,

  • do not cap the first word.
  • put punctuation outside the parens.

…Q  Where did it hit you?
…A  Right along here (indicating).

Happy punctuating!


Change of Date for Grammar Class

Because of a personal issue that has come up, I am pushing back the start date for the grammar class. We will begin on February 12 and go through April 8.

Here are the new dates:

February 12, 18, 25
March 4, 5, 12, 19
April 1, 2, 10

Go to for details and registration.

Hope to see you in class.



This Is Your Chance — a Grammar Class

Good morning.

I am fairly sure you have not had the chance to take a grammar class recently. As I have said so often, it is understanding how the language works that lays the foundation for everything else. Knowing the difference between a phrase and a clause, understanding modifiers, being able to find the subject and verb — this knowledge makes punctuating easier, makes producing a transcript easier!

So the magic date is January 14. We will start a 20-hour grammar course that will meet on Saturdays and/or Sundays through the beginning of March. And the CEUs have been prequalified through NCRA. If you cannot attend live, you can listen to the recorded sessions and submit a detailed summary.

We have made it easy to collect your CEUs but, more importantly, to gain knowledge and understanding of this wonderful language. The cost is $395 for reporters (just $20 per CEU) and $355 for proofers, scopists, students, and teachers — no airplanes, no bad pillows in a hotel; and you get to come to class in your pajamas with your very own snacks. What could be more fun and comfortable?

Go to margieholdsclass for details and to register.

At this time, I have no plans to repeat this class this year. So strike now! And did I mention that grammar is my favorite thing to teach?

Happy punctuating!