I was talking about video games recently (and wondering if I dared take the plunge into Skyrim, at long last) and was reminded of a classic action role-playing game called Demon’s Souls. Here’s the cover:
I played this game a few years ago and loved it. Basically, the object is to explore the world, kill a bunch of tough boss monsters (which are referred to as demons, though they certainly aren’t demons in the traditional sense), and use the power of their souls to level up. Extremely challenging, yes, but just as rewarding and compelling. However, one thing about the game really bugged me: the title.
The use of the apostrophe-S suggests that there is one demon, and it has multiple souls. But the game is lousy with demons. Why isn’t it called Demons’ Souls? Or, if you think the ending apostrophe looks bad (even though it would be correct), what’s wrong with just Demon Souls?
Singular possessives and plural possessives are two different things, and the placement of the apostrophe matters. If a house belongs to one college student, it’s the student’s house. If it is shared by a number of students, it’s the students’ house.
It gets a little trickier (but not much) when the subject is already plural. For example, a clothing store’s sign for “Men’s Department” is correct because the word “men” is plural.
Worse yet is when the subject ends in the letter S. If you’re talking about Lois Lane’s attempts to prove that Clark Kent is Superman, do you call them Lois’s attempts or Lois’ attempts? I go with the former, which is also recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style: add the apostrophe-S. The fact that the subject happens to end in S doesn’t matter. (Also, look at the second option–if you came across that while reading, how would you pronounce it? How did you pronounce it in your mind when you saw it just above? Did you say “Lois” or “Lois-ez”?)
By the way, the sequel to Demon’s Souls was released last year. The new game was titled Dark Souls. Much better.