Eleven articles appear below:

1    Girls, Girl's or Girls' ???
2    Apostrophes and Girls
Apostrophes and Girls Revisited
4    Girls, Werewolves and Apostrophes
5    Apostrophes and Girls 3
6    Apostrophes and Rules
7    Apostrophes and Girls 4
8    Grammar Vigilante
9    Apostrophes Yet Again
10   Apostrophes, Werewolves and Girls
Apostrophes, Werewolves and Girls Solved?


(Investigator 171, 2016 November)

Which title is correct?

The article on Schlocky Horror in Investigator #170 mentions the movie:

•    Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory; and
•    Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory

Girl's — the apostrophe before the "s" — occurs in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

Posters for the movie have a third variation, Girls', the apostrophe after the "s".

Which is correct, Girls, Girl's or Girls' ?

The movie was Italian-made (with inferior dubbing), but consulting the Italian title doesn't help to settle our query since the Italian title is Lycanthropus.

Girls' Schools or Girls?

Consider schools for girls.

Which position for the apostrophe (if any) is correct in the phrases "Girls Schools" and "All-Girls Schools"?

Google Search commonly, but not always, gives Girls' Schools, apostrophe after the "s". However, All-Girls School(s) mostly appears without an apostrophe.

England has the Girls' Schools Association and the USA the National Coalition of Girls' Schools. The Adelaide phone book has a list headed — Schools-Girls'.

Ask a girl

On a question about girls it made sense to consult some actual girls.

Flinders University student Sophie Seeley seemed ideal because one of the subjects she studies for her Arts degree is English.

Sophie opted for Girls' but thought it might depend on context.

Maltin's apostrophe wrong

The Girl's version of the title, with the apostrophe before the "s", is wrong because that would refer to just one girl whereas the werewolf went after multiple girls.

Majority usage

If majority opinion regarding apostrophes wins then the correct title is Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory.

However, apostrophes often indicate possession or ownership and students do not own the school they attend. It is really a School for Girls or attended by girls.

The "Dormitory" (which in the movie is a reformatory or detention centre) seemed owned by the werewolf/superintendant. It was not the girls' dormitory in the sense that the girls owned it, but in the sense that they occupied it. It was therefore a dormitory for girls.

Similarly, Girls' Schools are not Girls' Schools in the sense that girl students own the schools. The schools are really "Schools for Girls" or "All-Girls Schools".

On that basis the apostrophe in the movie title should be omitted, giving us Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (or Werewolf in a Dormitory for Girls).


There is a caveat to the preceding conclusion.

Language, grammar and spelling are not necessarily consistent but often based on convention and common usage. The words "bake", "say" and "paid", for example, are spoken with the same vowel sound despite the different spelling. Yet we do not declare two of the spellings wrong. By convention all three are correct.

Similarly, "Girls' Schools" might be correct by convention although wrong by the above analysis.

(Amended version)

Mark Newbrook

(see "Girls, Girl's or Girls'", Investigator 170, pp 12-13)

It is good to see material in Investigator about matters involving my own subject, linguistics!

I realise that the comment about consulting girls was not intended seriously, and in fact the specific girl consulted obviously has more relevant expertise than would most girls whom one might select haphazardly on the streets of Adelaide; but on such points would it not be useful to consult a qualified linguist (with a specialisation in English)? Now linguists will not identify some native-speaker usage as 'wrong' and other usage as 'right'. We too recognise that usage may not be consistent; and we strive to make our discipline as scientific as possible and therefore deal 'non-prescriptively' with the facts of usage rather than with opinions as to 'correctness' (although as sociolinguists we may study such opinions too). But languages used as English is used do require norms and a degree of standardisation, especially for written usage. And we are happy to put our expertise in language to use by way of helping our communities with such matters; we can offer recommendations for usage in specific cases, based on broader patterns of usage and on reasoning.

One would expect the 'standard' form Girls' in this context; this is a 'possessive' plural (see below). But, as is illustrated in "Girls, Girl's or Girls'", informal written usage varies greatly; many inexperienced writers of English have great difficulty in deciding which form to use in a given case (the Leave Your Trolley's Here syndrome!).  Actual ambiguity is rare (it almost always involves singular vs plural possessive, as in the girl's books vs the girls' books) and most such cases are easily resolved in practice.  It is possible that in the end the English 'possessive' apostrophe (which at one time also appeared in some non-possessive plurals and was not consistently or exclusively used in possessives even in careful writing until the 18th Century) will vanish altogether.
Some company names have already abandoned it (e.g. the booksellers Waterstones), and there are many anomalies in place-names (Kings Park in Perth, etc.) which would cease to confuse if there were no possessive apostrophe at all. (But some apparent anomalies do in fact display standard usage: Queen's College in Oxford involves one queen, Queens' College in Cambridge involves two.) 

And, after all, German, which also has possessive -s, uses no apostrophe – though this is hardly confusing, since very few German nouns have plurals in -s. Afrikaans has solved the problem by separating possessive -s off as a separate word (e.g. Jan se boek, 'John's book').

The English possessive in -'s (etc.) does not necessarily mark possession in the specific sense of ownership. There is an entire range of types of 'possession'. Consider the three-way ambiguity of John's picture (owned by John, created by John, representing John). (Some alternative structures are less ambiguous; a picture of John can only mean one representing John.)  The fact that girls attending a school do not own the school is thus irrelevant to these matters of grammar/punctuation.

The expression All-Girls in All-Girls School functions adjectivally (parallel with single-sex, etc.), and in such cases an apostrophe would not be expected. Entries in phone books such as Schools – Girls surely have dashes rather than hyphens and thus involve two expressions not linked grammatically; again, no apostrophe would be expected. It is true that Girl's would not be standard usage in the 'werewolf' example, either because in the story the werewolf pursues multiple girls or because multiple girls use the dormitory (or both!).

I hope that this helps, and I would be happy to engage in further discussion.


An extract from Adelaide's Yellow Pages:—


Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 173, 2017 March)

I have now seen the extract from the Adelaide Yellow Pages reproduced in Investigator 172 (p 47).  The use of a hyphen rather than a dash (or a comma) strikes me as odd but is not confusing; the apostrophe in the word Girls' makes sense if the entire expression Girls' Schools has been reordered for the alphabetical sequencing of the directory.

I have also read the book F…ing Apostrophes by Simon Griffin, who is not a linguist but is well-informed about these matters. Griffin's tone is more 'prescriptivist' than a linguist would like (talk of 'correctness', etc.), and one of his acknowledgements is to the British author Lynne Truss, whose own books display a quite heavily prescriptivist approach to punctuation (and some of whose own punctuation, ironically, has been judged non-standard by purist American commentators). Griffin does accept that changes may occur in respect of what is considered correct or standard usage (e.g., the move over recent decades from the 1970's to the 1970s), and in this context he quotes with approval the relatively non-prescriptivist writer Michael Rosen.

Most of Griffin's specific comments about current usage are wholly sensible and helpful. I especially like his carefully-drawn distinction between Rihanna and Jennifer's photos (photos of the two together) and Rihanna's and Jennifer's photos (taken separately). Griffin does not concern himself with the genuinely difficult cases involving the co-ordination of a noun and a pronoun in the possessive, such as Peter and I's job (one job being done together by both men). Anyone who rejects this usage on the ground that the form I's does not otherwise exist in English is welcome to propose a succinct alternative.

There are few actual infelicities in the book. Griffin does suggest that words such as ad/advert (cropped from advertisement) have lost a final apostrophe over time; but final apostrophes were never commonly written in such words. However, this is not relevant to the possessive apostrophe as discussed here.

A couple of additional points.  Firstly: some writers are uncertain as to the punctuation of expressions such as one of the directors' wives.  A little thought will make it apparent that in a monogamous society this must mean 'one of the women who are married to the [various] directors', and that the possessive-plural final apostrophe is thus standard. The homophonous alternative one of the director's wives would imply that the sole director has more than one wife. There is actually a linguistic joke based on this (punch-line: 'Madam, I do not care if you are the director's only wife!').

Secondly: it should be noted that the possessive apostrophe is no longer a simple case-inflection on the relevant head noun, as it was originally (and as the equivalent German form still is). It attaches to the last word (usually a noun) of the noun phrase in question, even if that is not the head noun. Thus we say the Queen of England's palace, not (as once did occur) the Queen's palace of England. This change has been facilitated by the loss of all other case-inflections on English nouns.


(Investigator 174, 2015 May)

Regarding an apostrophe in the movie title "Werewolf in a Girls [or Girls'] Dormitory" Mark Newbrook says: "One would expect the 'standard' form Girls' in this context; this is a 'possessive' plural…" (Investigator 172)

To my point that the girls did not own the dormitory, merely occupied it, Newbrook responds: "The English possessive in -'s (etc.) does not necessarily mark possession in the specific sense of ownership. There is an entire range of types of 'possession'. Consider the three-way ambiguity of John's picture (owned by John, created by John, representing John)."

However, the dormitory in the movie besides not being owned by the girls was also not created by them or represented them.

Newbrook also says: "The expression All-Girls in All-Girls School functions adjectivally… and in such cases an apostrophe would not be expected."

Griffin in F...... Apostrophes (2016), writes: "An attributive noun is a noun that describes another noun, essentially turning it into an adjective, so you don't need to use a f…… apostrophe…. So you need to decide whether the first noun owns the second or not (or just describes it)…" (p. 36)

It seems to me that "Girls" in "Girls Dormitory" is not a possessive, but attributive, functioning adjectivally, and an apostrophe would not be expected.

Other examples of an adjectival relationship between two nouns would be sports car, Accounts Department, Drivers License, Teachers Manual, cows milk.


The Internet has extensive debate about apostrophes. One web-page says: "The possessive is much a looser concept than ownership: the girls may not own the school but it's still a girls' school." A phenomenon named "Grammar Girl" outlines "9 Ways to use an Apostrophe" but left me unclear whether it's a "girls school" or "girls' school". 

Other dormitory-with-girls movies are "Girls' Dormitory" (1936) and "Bad Girls Dormitory" (1985) the latter without the apostrophe but both without werewolves. There is also a novel titled "Girls' Dormitory" published in 1958.

Parkside Ranch in Canada has a "Girls Dormitory" with 62 bunk beds, but St. Mugagga School in Indiana is getting a "New Girls' Dormitory". Malaysia has "Sogor Girls School", but The Weekend Australian mentioned "the elite Sydney girls' boarding school Kambala." (February 25-26, p. 4)

A recent brochure promoting a school open day is titled, "Mitcham Girls High School". The brochure uses the phrase "Mitcham Girls High School" with no apostrophe, nine times, and "Mitcham Girls" twice. However, it also calls the school "A girls' school" and "a Specialist School in Girls' education".


"April Fools' Day", with the apostrophe, would be correct since Reader's Digest asks: "Ever Wonder Why … we play April Fools' Day jokes on people every April 1?" (October 1994, p. 112)

However, getting back to werewolves, would we refer to "The werewolves victims" or "The werewolves' victims"? Would a werewolf, or any other tenant, get "two months notice" to vacate the premises or "two months' notice"?

Sticking now with girls, do the following require an apostrophe?

•    "Tonight is the girls night out event."

•    "The girls bathroom is down that corridor."

•    "The girls boyfriends attended the girls chess club."

•    "Janice joined the girls boxing team." Question: Should the t-shirts of the girl pugilists be labelled "Girls Boxing" or "Girls' Boxing"?

Finally, consider two enterprising girls who purchase a property and open a school, making them the owners of the school. Furthermore, only girls are accepted for enrolment. Which of the following is preferable:—

"The girls' school is a girls school" or "The girls' school is a girls' school" where the first use of "girls'" in each sentence refers to the two owners.


Griffin, S. 2016 F…… Apostrophes, Icon Books





PS. Listen to an entertaining song with a catchy rhythm about the "apostrophe apostasy" at


(response to 'Girls, Werewolves and Apostrophes',
B.Stett, Investigator 174, pp 50-52)

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 175, 2017 July)

I thank Stett for these comments. As noted by all contributors to this discussion, usage in this area is complex, variable and fluid!

I stated that there is an entire range of types of 'possession'. I did not suggest that the only three types involve ownership, creation and representation. These are merely among the leading examples of what is an entire range of semantic types of (grammatically-defined) possession, and in cases such as John's picture all three are possible.  Regular occupation (or even very temporary occupation, as in the case of a hotel room: After the conference dinner I went back to my room) is yet another type of possession. Etc., etc. There is no semantic objection to Girls' as in Girls' Dormitory; in context, it is a wholly legitimate possessive.

I agree with Griffin as cited here (except that owns is too specific; see above). But a possessive is arguably one type of attributive modifier. In any case, as Stett exemplifies, most nouns functioning adjectivally as attributives do not require the possessive apostrophe; but these are usually in the singular form and thus display no final -s (etc.) at all.  A few such nouns do appear in the plural form without an apostrophe in this attributive construction as they do more generally (sports, accounts, etc.).  I myself find plural drivers and teachers functioning as plain attributives, without any possessive apostrophe, very awkward in writing, but given the current situation I am not surprised if I see such usage. I would 'do a double-take' on seeing Girls Dormitory, because nouns such as girl do not normally take plural -s when used attributively (and are in fact seldom used attributively at all); but such forms too clearly do occur.

The argument given here in favour of April Fools' Day appears inconclusive.  Is Reader's Digest so authoritative?

Currently the patterning in respect of constructions such as two months notice versus the more established or standard two months' notice is in flux.

As a linguist I am mainly concerned to describe and analyse actual usage, whether or not it be deemed standard ('correct'); but I am prepared to state whether or not I think that a given form can be seen as standard (at any given time) on the strength of preferred careful usage (especially if systematically surveyed) and of well-informed comments on usage.



(Investigator 176, 2017 September)


In the absence of globally accepted rules that govern when apostrophes should be used, we're left with investigating actual usage without judging it correct or incorrect. In this I concur with Mark Newbrook. (Investigator #175)

And we've decided that both of the following conform to actual usage:

Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, and
Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory

Our fruitful discussion therefore seemed completed.

However, I've since wondered: "Could a set of rules be defined by which every insertion of an apostrophe would be correct or incorrect?"


We're considering cases where apostrophes replace the word "of" as when "The house of Peter" becomes "Peter's house". 

"Of" and apostrophes are used more diversely than mere indication of ownership. We'd probably want the rules for inserting apostrophes to include the following situations:

a)    Ownership. e.g. "Jill's money"; "Joe's hat", etc. We would take note of different types of ownership such as Newbrook's example, "the three-way ambiguity of John's picture (owned by John, created by John, representing John."

b)    Possession. Possession implies a degree of control over something or the right to use it but is not always identical to ownership e.g. "Kirstie's hotel room", "Grandfather's daily walk".

c)    Component or feature of a larger object. e.g. "The car's doors"; "The trees' [Plural] leaves"; "The cat's tail"; "The paint's color"; "The coffee's temperature"; "The day's activities". 

d)    Relationships. e.g. "Susan's mother"; "The teacher's students"; "The boy's friends"; "Tom's enemies".

e) No Apostrophes for adjectival relationships between two nouns. Griffin in F...... Apostrophes (2016), explains: "An attributive noun is a noun that describes another noun, essentially turning it into an adjective, so you don't need to use a f…… apostrophe… So you need to decide whether the first noun owns the second or not (or just describes it)…" (p. 36) Hence, there is no apostrophe in "sports car", "accounts department", "drivers license".


The following table lists phrases previously considered and assigns apostrophes according to the five Rules:

Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory ?
Girls Schools Association
Schools-Girls e
Girls School(s) e
All-Girls School(s) e
John's picture a or b
Queen of England's palace a or b
Mitcham Girls High School e
Girls education ?
The werewolves' victims b or d
Two months notice e
The girls bathroom ?
The girls' boyfriends b or d
Girls night out event ?
The girls boxing team e
Girls Boxing [Label on T-shirts] e
April Fools Day e

"The werewolves' victims" takes an apostrophe by Rule "d" if we regard perpetrator and victim as a relationship but by Rule "b" if a victim is something an offender possesses.

By Rule "e" the phrase "goats milk" in "I like drinking goats milk" would omit the apostrophe. However, if the goats have not been milked and the milk is inside the goats as in "The goats' milk is causing them pain", Rule "c" applies.

"Girls education" takes an apostrophe by Rules "a", "b" or "c" if it refers to the education of a particular girl or group of girls (e.g. "My girl's education is progressing well"), but no apostrophe by Rule "e" if education in general is meant (e.g. "Girls education is as important as boys education"). 

Similar logic applies in the phrase "girls books". If the phrase refers to a group of girls who purchased some books, then the books are "The girls' books" By Rule "a" because they own the books. If the phrase refers to books as a genre, written or intended for girls, the books would be "Girls books" no apostrophe by Rule "e".


"The girls bathroom" has an apostrophe by Rule "b". However, the word "girls" also describes what sort of bathroom it is — therefore an adjectival relationship — therefore no apostrophe by Rule "e"!

Similarly for "Girls night out event" and "Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory": Yes by Rule "b" but No by Rule "e".

Therefore, whether Flinders University student Sophie Seeley (#171) was "correct" in suggesting "Girls Dormitory" requires the apostrophe remains unclear because my layman's attempt to formulate rules leaves ambiguities!

 Could the rules remain few but be improved so that no ambiguities remain?


Griffin, S. 2016 F…… Apostrophes, Icon Books

Investigator Magazine Numbers 171, 172, 173, 174,175.



(response to 'Apostrophes And Rules', B.Stett, Investigator 176, pp 41-43)

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 177, 2017 November)

I very much appreciate Stett's continuing interest in this matter!

Linguists would not accept the application of the notions 'correct' and 'incorrect' to native-speaker usage (as opposed to that of foreign learners, who obviously may make errors).  All native-speaker usage is ipso facto valid.  But some native-speaker usage is (considered) standard as opposed to non-standard; it has been 'standardised' over time by educated users.  And – although the boundary between standard and non-standard is unclear or disputed in places, and what counts as standard varies from country to country (etc.) – the 'rules' describing standard usage (and thus assisting those seeking to render their own usage more standard) are predictably more determinate, in general, than the equivalent principles for non-standard usage (though not necessarily totally determinate).  Indeed, such 'rules' are often made explicit in traditional grammars.  There is thus some hope of fully expressing the 'rules' describing standard usage in some cases, perhaps including this present case.

Stett's list of semantic types of possession (a-d) which are grammatically expressed with the apostrophe is of course incomplete (it omits, for instance, two of the types which I identified as expressed by forms such as John's picture), but as long as this is acknowledged it is not damaging; (a-d) are examples, not an exhaustive list.

Stett is right to repeat the point that in attributive constructions the possessive apostrophe is not usually used. However, nouns used attributively as in 'Rule (e)' are usually singular or else 'uncountable' (milk, etc.), and many writers avoid forms with plural attributives such as girls schools or find them odd or worse if encountered in reading (there are some special exceptions involving the attributive use of certain specific plural nouns such as sports).  Most would write girls' books or girls' education even when referring generically to a genre of books rather than to the specific books owned (etc.) by specific girls, or to the education of girls in general.  (Obviously, those who are themselves comfortable with usage such as girls schools are free to continue using such forms.)

The current standard English construction with the possessive plural (final apostrophe) is thus inherently 'ambiguous' between specific and generic senses of the possessive.  However, there is little prospect of 'improving' such 'rules' so as to avoid such 'ambiguities'.  I know of no evidence that this issue is perceived by native users as involving genuine ambiguity (this is simply a contrast not systematically expressed in English) or as confusing (the entire noun phrases in question, such as girls' books, are normally unambiguous in context).  And, if this is what Stett has in mind, attempts (however well intentioned) to alter the usage of native speakers (even in writing) are most unlikely to succeed.  (But I thank Stett for drawing my attention to this 'ambiguity'.)

There are various other points to be made here.  For example, the possessive with an apostrophe and the alternative construction with of do not occur in the exact same range of environments/senses.  Inanimate 'possessors' more rarely take the apostrophe, except in some specific constructions (one of the table's legs is more usual usage than simply the table's legs).  And expressions such as God's love vs the love of God do not have the same range of meanings.  The former can refer only to love emanating from God, whereas the latter is ambiguous between this sense and the sense 'love for God'.


(Investigator 178, 2018 January)


Whether "Girls" in the movie title "Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory" requires an apostrophe was investigated in Investigator Magazine 171 to 177 without a decisive yes or no finding.

What Investigator lacked was the expertise available in Bristol (England). With it we might have succeeded.

A so-called "Grammar Vigilante" has stalked the night streets for 13 years and corrected misplaced apostrophes and other errors on street signs, business signs and shop fronts.


The first page of a Google search on "Grammar Vigilante" in November indicates the Vigilante's growing fame:

•    Meet the 'Grammar Vigilante' of Bristol

•    Anonymous 'grammar vigilante' tackles UK signs

•    Bristol grammar vigilante: Is this the hero the world needs?

•    Revealed: Self-styled 'grammar vigilante' corrects badly punctuated...

•    The 'Grammar Vigilante': Defender Of Truth, Justice And The...

•    'Grammar vigilante' changes incorrect business signs across Bristol...

•    'Banksy of punctuation' puts full stop to bad grammar in Bristol...

•    'Grammar vigilante' sneaks around at night fixing bad apostrophes...


A BBC documentary titled "The Apostrophiser" (April 2017) was named after a home-made tool with long handle used by the Vigilante to apply tape which can add an apostrophe, or cover one, on hard-to-reach-surfaces.

The Vigilante's identity is known to the BBC but otherwise remains a secret.

If you're thinking that correcting street and shop signs is a caper a linguist might indulge in, note that I've checked a map and Mark Newbrook lives too far from Bristol. Furthermore, a report by Colin Dwyer titled "The 'Grammar Vigilante': Defender Of Truth, Justice And The Grammarian Way" cites the BBC documentary and says the man is an engineer:

The BBC says it has discovered the identity of the "Banksy of punctuation" — a mild-mannered engineer by day, who by night transforms (presumably in a telephone booth) into the intrepid superhero of sentences everywhere. The network will not reveal his identity...

In the documentary the Grammar Vigilante maintains he is fighting the good fight against bad grammar and says, “I do think it's a cause worth pursuing."

Vigilante/Apostrophiser, if you read this and know whether the dormitory the werewolf was in was a Girls or a Girls' dormitory Investigator can use your help.


Apostrophes Yet Again (No Girls This Time)

(Investigator 179, 2018 March)

Re apostrophes and the 'Grammar Vigilante' (Investigator Magazine 178 pp 12-13): I know that this discussion is somewhat 'tongue-in-cheek'; but I repeat that linguists do not accept the application of the notions 'correct' and 'incorrect' to native-speaker usage, and thus would not use expressions such as 'bad grammar'. And we certainly would not 'fight' against any native-speaker usage in the role of a vigilante. If anyone really thought we would, they would be working with an inaccurate view of what linguists do. The most we will do is assist in the promotion of moderate, useful degrees of standardisation, for instance by 'correcting' palpable non-standardisms in the context of formal writing when acting as teacher, examiner or editor. And even here we would not suggest that what happens to be standard usage at present is somehow 'better' than non-standard usage, except where it is less ambiguous or more systematic (but in some cases it is non-standard usage that is less ambiguous and/or more systematic).

If there are any outstanding issues from earlier discussions, I am happy to comment further in my capacity as a professional English grammarian; but it is vain to expect the structures of natural languages to display complete systematicity or to permit of no variation in usage or meaning.

Mark Newbrook



 (Investigator 180, 2018 May)

"Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory" — Does this movie title require an apostrophe?

My exchange of ideas with Dr Newbrook never was a debate, but a search for criteria by which to decide whether to add or omit apostrophes.

It is impractical to decide by doing surveys of what people think — the criterion of standard usage is difficult to implement.

However, the problem is now solved, at least for my purpose of doing consistent editing.


The clue to the solution came from a webpage on which is discussed the phrase "six girls hats":

Do you add an apostrophe or not? Yes, if you wish to indicate possession, you add an apostrophe…
Six girls' hats are in the lost-and-found box.  (Six hats belonging to girls are in the lost and found.)…
However, if you wish to indicate that the hats are designed for girls – they don't belong to anyone – do not use an apostrophe.
We sold six girls hats today. (Six hats for girls were sold.)
Remember, add the apostrophe to indicate possession. Omit the apostrophe if you can mentally insert the word "for."



Recall that in Investigator #176 I listed five "rules" for deciding when to employ an apostrophe.

The problem that resulted was that Rule "b" conflicted with Rule "e" so that one rule sometimes indicated "yes" to the apostrophe and the other rule "no". I here repeat "b" and "e" for further consideration:

b) Possession. Possession implies a degree of control over something or the right to use it but is not always identical to ownership e.g. "Kirstie's hotel room", "Grandfather's daily walk".

e) No Apostrophes for adjectival relationships between two nouns. Griffin in F...... Apostrophes (2016), explains: "An attributive noun is a noun that describes another noun, essentially turning it into an adjective, so you don't need to use a f… apostrophe… So you need to decide whether the first noun owns the second or not (or just describes it)…" (p. 36) Hence, there is no apostrophe in "sports car", "accounts department", "drivers license".

In the sentence "Where is the Mitcham Girls High School?" the word "girls" is clearly adjectival, hence no apostrophe.

And that is the solution — we need to examine in each instance the intention of the writer or speaker, whether is it to affirm possession or to describe.

Now let's reconsider phrases that stymied me in #176.

"Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory"
The intention of whoever thought up this movie title was probably to tell us what sort of dormitory it is. He was describing, not emphasizing ownership or possession. Therefore no apostrophe.

Similar comment applies to the phrases "The girls bathroom", "The girls night out event", and the label "Girls Boxing" on the t-shirts of the boxing team. No apostrophe required.

The phrase "The werewolves' victims" is not a description of the victims, but a statement of what the werewolves took control of and possessed. Therefore add the apostrophe.

What about that cartoon in #174 where a landlord evicts a werewolf from the premises? Did the landlord give "Two months notice" or "Two months' notice?" The "two months" describes the "notice" and therefore omits the apostrophe.

I would proceed like this on a case by case basis, whenever  rules "b" and "e" seem in conflict, and work out the intention (or probable intention) of the speaker or writer.

Sophie Seeley of Flinders University who studies English (and linguistics) and opted for "Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory" (with the apostrophe) was therefore mistaken, but she covered herself by adding it might depend on context. Spot on!


[A paragraph from the editorial of Investigator #181]

Mark Newbrook responds to Apostrophes, Werewolves and Girls Solved (#180) and queries that the issues are solved. Newbrook's response looks like the final word about apostrophes in Investigator, unless the "Grammar Vigilante" of Bristol checks Google and finds out he got a mention (#178) and has something to add. If the series got you excited and you're raring to test yourself on apostrophes,  try the ten-question test on the webpage of The University of Bristol at:


Apostrophes, Werewolves and Girls – Solved?

(response to 'Apostrophes , Werewolves and Girls – Solved', B. Stett, Investigator 180, pp 18-19)

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 181, 2018 July)

I much appreciate Stett's ongoing interest in this matter. I hope I never suggested that I saw this exchange as a 'debate'! 

As I said in Investigator 179, it is vain to expect the structures of natural languages to display complete systematicity; and it is unlikely that the issues regarding a natural-language feature of this kind – especially in a language as rich and varied as English – could ever be fully 'solved'. Even in cases like this, where writing rather than speech is involved, there is too much variation (regional, stylistic, individual) in usage or meaning, change in progress at any given time, idiomatic usage, disagreement regarding acceptability and about what counts as standard usage, indeterminacy of analysis, etc. It is obviously necessary to arrive at well-defined varieties which can be taught to foreign learners, and to agree to a significant extent, at least within a given country, on what counts as standard usage (for the purposes of examining, editing, etc.). But there is no real basis for the application of the notions 'correct' and 'incorrect' to native-speaker usage.

It is also dangerous to rely in this context on non-authoritative sources. Griffin, as cited here, demonstrates the limits to his expertise when he contrasts ownership and 'description' as if these were the only notions in play. As I have made clear, and as Stett acknowledges here, ownership is only one of the several semantic relationships indicated grammatically by the possessive apostrophe with -s- (or by of). Griffin also refers here to two members (sports, accounts) of the small special set of nouns which do take plural -s in attributive position, without acknowledging that there are issues with plural -s in attributive position on a broader front (see below). And 'Ontario Training', again as cited, does not seem to have any specifically linguistic authority. It might be better to cite here the various accounts of these matters produced by qualified descriptive English grammarians (i.e. by the relevant professional linguists – not necessarily me; there are 'bigger shots' than me!).

The most obvious specific issue here concerns forms such as girls hats ('hats for girls'); the idea is that as the word girls is attributive here no apostrophe is needed. The main problem here is that, with the exception of special cases such as sports and accounts, unequivocally attributive nouns are normally singular or 'uncountable' (and thus bear no -s). Now forms such as girls hats, with what looks like a straightforward plural attributive, clearly do occur, especially in informal contexts.  But I would argue that they are seldom found in more serious writing, that careful writers tend to avoid them, and that editors and experienced readers tend to find them awkward (I will look for figures etc. if any of this is doubted). They are arguably non-standard, or at least 'disputed usage'. Now there is nothing linguistically wrong with non-standard usage – but I take it that our main focus here is upon careful writing, which is normally in Standard English (at least by intention), and that Standard English is thus what is in question here.

In contrast, forms with the possessive apostrophe, such as girls' hats, are unequivocally standard here. As noted, possessives with the apostrophe by no means always involve ownership, control, etc.; the fact that girls do not own their schools as they might come to own hats in no way rules out the possessive construction with school/schools and such.

Perhaps because of his excessively narrow focus on possessives involving ownership, Griffin identifies drivers in drivers license as attributive; but the word drivers here appears clearly singular in sense (at least when modifying the singular form license), and a possessive apostrophe (before the -s) would be much more usual here in the relevant varieties. (Before plural licenses, an apostrophe after the -s as in drivers' would surely be the most common usage.)

Of course, forms such as girls school, even if they are not to be deemed standard now, could come to be regarded as standard – perhaps with a special sense involving relationships other than ownership or control (at present English makes no such distinction in its grammar). This would be an interesting change in the limits and capacities of Standard English.

Over recent decades, the use of the apostrophe has in fact been changing in various respects, as I have noted earlier. The construction two months notice / two months' notice is one such case. Both forms occur, and arguably both are now to be deemed standard usage.

My comments above imply that I think that Seeley was not mistaken in her judgement on this issue; the usage which she recommended, with the apostrophe, is the more clearly standard.

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