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Apostrophes are used to show ownership. If the thing that owns something is plural, then we are supposed to put the apostrophe after the "s". For example:

"Three cats' toys are all over the floor"

But what if the plural thing does not end in an "s". For example "oxen" is the plural of ox but does not end in an "s". So if we want to say "the poop from the oxen is all over the place", how do you say this using an apostrophe?

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    The rule you cite is an orthographic one (to do with how words are written); not a grammatical one (to do with plurality or grammatical number etc). Compare: Smith's house is larger than Jones'. Note that the apostrophe is completely unrelated to grammatical number; its position conveys no semantics. It is placed in the last position in Jones' and the penultimate position in Smith's because Jones ends in an s and Smith does not. Hence: "the oxen's poop is all over the floor". – Dan Bron Jun 8 '15 at 22:18
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    Related: plural possessive form of a mutated plural. – Tim Lymington Jun 8 '15 at 22:54
  • I think the oxen disclaimed ownership of the poop as soon as they pooped it. – Hot Licks Jun 8 '15 at 23:19
  • @HotLicks: I guess when asked they'll claim it is not their BS? – oerkelens Jun 9 '15 at 8:58
  • @oerkelens - To them it's definitely an SEP. – Hot Licks Jun 9 '15 at 11:26
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The addition of "s" after the apostrophe indicates possession. We delete the s for plural nouns ending in s because somehow, we think it is unnecessary anymore. However for those whose plural form does not end in s, such as oxen, we put an s there because it is sounds more fluid-- it is more of an auditory aesthetics that matters.

So to say "The oxen's poop is allover the place" is correct.

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  • So the sentence in the title is correct? – Joshua Benabou Jun 8 '15 at 22:18
  • The apostrophe has nothing whatever to do with the sound: it is a purely orthographical convention. – Colin Fine Jun 8 '15 at 23:51
  • In other words, instead of Three cats's, we write "Three cats' --- it's, orthographically, less cluttered and easier to process. In effect, the apostrophe stands-in for the second s. – user98990 Jun 9 '15 at 1:41
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And this is a perfect place to avoid the whole question by forming a compound noun.

There is ox-poop all over the place.

or, if the compound noun becomes sufficiently widespread (the noun, not the substance, although probably that too)

There is oxpoop all over the place.

The latter simplification rules when it comes to dogs, less so to cats.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=dog-shit%2Cdogshit&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cdog%20-%20shit%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cdogshit%3B%2Cc0 enter image description here

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And this is a perfect place to avoid the whole question by forming a compound noun.

There is ox-poop all over the place.

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I think that as oxen is already a plural, the correct sentence should simply read; "The oxen poop is all over the place".

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  • I should have added that this also makes more sense as the oxen do not collectively have a single poop, they would logically have many poops. So referring to the oxen poop is describing a scenario of possibly many poops or a single occurrence. – Davis King Jun 26 '15 at 13:57
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    So are you saying that the apostrophe indicates a plural? – Chenmunka Jun 26 '15 at 14:39

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