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My teacher has said that the statement

The working thesis statement reflects how the characters' help establish the religious allegory.

is 'grammatically' correct, with help acting as a verb, not a noun. I have been taught that this is not the correct use of apostrophes, but he says that it is correct – that there is an alternate use of apostrophes that few people use. Is he correct?

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    What uses of the apostrophe have you found on ELU? (Though I'd say this example is unacceptable. 'Few' might equal 'one' here, and acceptability is usage-driven.) – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '17 at 16:51
  • No. If one role of the characters is to offer assistance to establishing the allegory, then "characters help" and they do so without an apostrophe. – Yosef Baskin Feb 17 '17 at 16:52
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    Your example is definitely invalid, but almost everyone would accept "apostrophised plurals" in, for example, mind your p's and q's. See What is the correct way to pluralize an acronym? – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '17 at 17:14
  • ... and some accept an apostrophe in a word that could be considered even more outlandish without. We had the misfortune to run across our ex's at both the Christmas and the New Year do's. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '17 at 17:46
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If "help" is used as the verb in the sentence, the apostrophe at the end of "characters" makes no sense that I can determine.

If help is a noun and is modified by "characters'", then "establish" needs to become 3rd person ,"establishes", to be correct.

If "the characters help establish" there is no problem.

The working thesis statement reflects how the characters' help establish the religious allegory.

is not correct.

The working thesis statement reflects how the characters help establish the religious allegory.

would be fine. The "characters help establish".

The working thesis statement reflects how the characters' help establishes the religious allegory.

is OK. The help of the characters establishes.

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