Apostrophes can be tricky and, as a manuscript editor, one of the most common errors I see is the misspelling of the term “my parents’ house.” Most of the writers that I work with are apt to spell the term “my parent’s house.” Why is that usually wrong? And when is it right?
It’s wrong because most of the time, but certainly not always, we have two parents. Therefore the apostrophe goes after the term “parents” because the house belongs to the parents. It’s like saying, “I’m going to the squirrels’ hideout.” If there is only one squirrel, we can say, “the squirrel’s hideout”; otherwise, we use the plural.
Likewise for parents. If our parents are divorced, separated, widowed or otherwise reduced from two to one, it’s appropriate and absolutely correct to write, “I went over to my parent’s house.”
But chances are you’re not going to say that because it’s pretty formal. When you’re referring to both your mother and father, you’re likely to say, “parents” whereas if you’re talking about one parent, you’ll probably say “my mom,” “my stepmom,” or “my dad.” For example, “I went to my mom’s house.”
One way to catch this mistake is to keyword your manuscript or article at the end and look for the word “parent’s.” Then you can tell if the context is correct.
Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor (http://tinyurl.com/7wnk5se), and is both a line-by-line and a content editor for books, articles, magazines, and essays. Visit her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/