Founder’s Day or Founders’ Day? A Quick Guide to Apostrophes
The big question: should it be styled Founder’s Day or Founders’ Day?
Well, as I’m sure you all know, the apostrophe serves two main purposes. The first is to indicate missing letters: I’m for I am, for instance.
The second is a little trickier. Possession. The apostrophe in the phrase the dog’s tennis ball tells us that the tennis ball in question belongs to a dog, while the apostrophe in the dogs’ tennis ball tells us that the tennis ball is shared between two or more dogs.
Leaving aside for the moment the obvious difficulty this would cause for the unknown number of dogs, this is an important lesson. To show that one person (or animal, or anything you like) owns something else, we put an apostrophe before the s, and after the singular form of whatever word we’re using (eg. dog’s, cat’s, man’s, woman’s, child’s).
To show that something is owned by more than one person or thing, we put the apostrophe after the plural. As most words become plurals through the addition of an s, this generally means putting it after this s (eg. dogs’, cats’), but there are exceptions. Some plurals are not formed through the addition of an s. Men, women, and children are perhaps the most obvious examples. If the tennis ball discussed earlier is owned by two or more children, we do not write the childrens’ tennis ball, but the children’s tennis ball. The same principle applies to other plurals that don’t end with s.
The only important exception to these rules is the word its, which indicates something belonging to an it. The word it’s (note the apostrophe) can only ever mean it is or it has.
One more thing: an apostrophe used to indicate plurals (the snobbishly titled Greengrocer’s Apostrophe, used in phrases like Banana’s, orange’s and lemon’s half price) is always wrong.
Clear as day, isn’t it?
But what does this have to do with the original question: Founder’s Day or Founders’ Day?
Well, how many founders are we talking about?
If one man may be said to be the founder of the Republic of Ghana it is Kwame Nkrumah. He was the first president of the Republic, a great leader of his nation and a towering figure in African politics. In 1960 full independence was declared and Ghana, after centuries of domination by colonial powers, became a free and socialist state under Nkrumah.
So, it is not surprising that his birthday, September 21st, is a public holiday and celebrated as Founder’s Day. Apostrophe precedes the s! At first this was uncontentious, but rumblings of discontent soon surfaced. The apostrophe became a small political football in Ghana.
How Many Founders Founded?
Many in Ghana feel strongly their country was founded not by one man, but by many. Nkrumah was the figurehead, but not solely responsible. Governments come and, fortunately, go. The current government in Ghana strongly favours plural Founders. So another Founders’ Day has been instituted as a public holiday. This time the apostrophe goes after the s! August 4th is Founders’ Day and Ghana rejoices in another day off work.
Editors and proofreaders beware. In the admittedly unlikely event that you edit or proofread a book about Ghana, the apostrophe may be your undoing. You could become embroiled in a factional dispute.
Have a Care
Many would like to see the apostrophe put in the junk bin of punctuation. The poor colon fights a rearguard action and they want the apostrophe to go the same way. Shame on them, I say. And every self-respecting copy-editor and proofreader will agree. The little apostrophe is often vital to the clarity of our writing.
The next time you’re in Ghana, whether celebrating Founder’s Day or Founders’ Day, think on the apostrophe. The power of the little squiggle is ignored at your peril.