sheep in meadow

Attributive Nouns; or, Why There Is Sometimes No Apostrophe in Terms Such As Teachers Union

By Jennifer Rappaport

The possessive of plural nouns ending in is formed by adding an apostrophe after the s. For example, if you are referring to books belonging to your two teachers, you would write, “my teachers’ books.” 

But in terms such as teachers union and farmers market, in which the first noun is plural and ends in s, some writers omit the apostrophe after the s because the first noun is attributive—that is, the first noun acts as an adjective rather than as a possessive noun. Although this practice is not incorrect, the MLA follows The Chicago Manual of Style and only omits the apostrophe for proper nouns such as Teachers College or Department of Veterans Affairs (“Possessive”). Thus, we would write teachers’ union and farmers’ market.

For those who prefer to omit the apostrophe in generic terms, be aware that if the plural form of the first noun does not end in s, an apostrophe must be used:

the sheep’s meadow 

Work Cited

“Possessive versus Attributive Forms for Groups.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online, 17th ed., sec. 7.27, U of Chicago P, 2017, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part2/ch07/psec027.html.

 

Published 15 August 2019

Join the Conversation

We invite you to comment on this post and exchange ideas with other site visitors. Comments are moderated and subject to the terms of service.

If you have a question for the MLA’s editors, submit it to Ask the MLA!

Fields marked with * are required.

Your e-mail address will not be published.

Get MLA Style News from The Source

Be the first to read new posts and updates about MLA style.

The Source Sign-up - Style Center Footer