Two articles below:

1     Girls, Girl's or Girls'' ???
2     Apostrophes and Girls


(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:—