Shenanigans in Syntax

in which Ke is a wordy bitch and plays around with flash fiction

The Sneaky and Dangerous Wiles of the Dreaded Apostrophe

with 2 comments

in which Ke and her manager spend four hours arguing over whether it’s right to say nights, night’s or nights’

Seeing as I work as a copywriter in a team full of other copywriters, none of whom studied at the same place, it’s natural that our team sometimes encounters some discrepancies regarding style, use of punctuation and general grammar. While usually I just have to deal with people sprinkling commas as though they’re confetti or abusing and misusing semi-colons, today’s grammatical argument sort of stumped me.

Let me just interject here with: I have always hated apostrophes. They’re sneaky little devil creatures sent from the depths of hell to taunt me with their nonsensical existence. I’m not quite sure why they’re so foreign and irritating and generally un-understandable to me, I really don’t.

Moving along swiftly.

Today we were arguing about whether there needs to be an apostrophe in nights, when you’re talking about a night (or plural thereof) of accommodation. None of us could agree – unfortunately, the internet also proved slightly less than useful.

Eventually though, I found a website that seemed to hold the answers I was searching for:

Question: Here’s the problem:

Three nights accomodations?

Three night’s accomodations?

Three nights’ accomodations?

Three nights accomodation?

Three night accomodations?

Answer: First things first. It’s A-C-C-O-M-M-O-D-A-T-I-O-N-S. Never give a travel agent the impression that you are willing to do without a full complement of perksÂľ even if those perks are only doubled M’s.

Perhaps it is on this reasoning that hotel accommodations are usually in the plural. Thus, accommodations, not accommodation. And that leaves us with the three nights. I recommend the plural, which eliminates both three night and three night’s. The only remaining question is whether this is a possessive. This is a judgment call, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s a construction that is in the genitive if it’s animate and in the accusative if i t’s inanimate. At the moment, the only example I can think of is:

an enemy of the state

a friend of mine.

This leads me to recommend three nights accommodations. Many style manuals (including the Associated Press Stylebook) would recommend that you recast the sentence to avoid ambiguity. This, of course, would yield your subject line: accommodations for three nights. But where’s the challenge in that?

Whew. That was a tough one. I’m off to seek three nights accommodations in the Caribbean (note spelling: “R” deprived).

click here for more questions on apostrophes

This is somewhat helpful, but essentially just boils down to the fact that whether you use an apostrophe is totally a judgement call and boils down to nothing more than preference. Not exactly an argument settler.

Then I visited and found this:

First rule of thumb: An apostrophe has one of two purposes: it stands in place of missing letters (e.g. wouldn’t, isn’t, etc.) or it shows possession (e.g. This is Paul’s book.) If there are no missing letters and there is no possession issue then you do not need an apostrophe.

They actually have a very interesting article on revisiting the apostrophe, which I’ve linked and which you should definitely check out if you’re got a spare moment.

I settled on the fact that it’s a judgement call based on whether or not you think night would be possessive, which I don’t. My manager does – it’s an argument we settled by saying that from now on, we’re just going to call it a two-night stay.

Shenanigans indeed.

Written by rackare

April 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm