I am working on one of my employer's websites, and we have a video guide up for patients of how a particular procedure works. The guide was previously titled "A patients guide to [X]", but I have corrected it to "A patient's guide to [X]" as I initially felt that that was correct, and Grammarly also agreed. However, now I'm not so sure. Which do I go for?
You need an apostrophe to mark a possessive case here. However, the possessive case doesn't refer to ownership in such examples, instead it refers to the meaning "is intended for":
- A patient's guide to [X]
- A student's guide to [X]
- A teacher's guide to [X]
This means that this guide is intended for students, teachers or patients.
Example "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The Student's Guide to Becoming a Nurse", "The Teacher's Guides To Technology And Learning".
Possessive case vs Descriptive nouns.
First of all let's distinguish the difference between the possessive case and the descriptive uses of nouns:
- The Teacher's Guide (or Teachers' Guide) - Possessive case
- The Teacher Guide (or Teachers Guide) - Descriptive nouns
The traditional use of the possessive (with an apostrophe) is less common today, especially with corporate names. The name for a guide for teachers is open to all sorts of possibilities. In The Teacher Guide, the noun "teacher" functions as an adjective and not a possessive. This form, without the apostrophe, would appear in titles and in news headlines (which often omit apostrophes). But notice that other options are possible (and correct).
The best advice is to decide for a single document whether you want to use a descriptive or a possessive. Then be consistent throughout that document.
If you use the S, it must be "A patient's guide", which implies that the guide is possessed by a specific patient, or "Patients' guide", which implies that the guide is for multiple patients. I would argue the latter is more grammatical, although the first seems more common. I think one could justify both. The first could be justified as being specifically for the reader, who is a patient.
Alternatively, one could call it "A Patient Guide", although this risks being confused with the adjective "patient", which would describe someone or something that is tolerant and will wait without complaint. With some contexts (e.g. "A doctor guide") this would be fine. Here, I think it's slightly ambiguous and best avoided.
Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors says:
No apostrophe is generally used today [1998. -p.a.s] with plural nouns that are more descriptive than possessive.
Examples they give are "steelworkers union", "managers meeting" and "singles bar". I think patients guide fits in that group nicely: After all, the patients indeed do not actually own it.
Part of the issue is that you have an "A" at the beginning of your title. Such titles, as pointed out by others, feature singular nouns -- you might have a book about insurance called "A Patient's Guide to Patience."
However, there are other publications whose titles start with "The" -- and these can go either way. "The Boy's Guide to Greatness" or "The Boys' Book Of Survival" are two examples. When these "The" titles are singular, there is usually an adjective included: "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" or "The Married Man's Guide to Adultery" or combined forms like "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue."
Titles like these sound a bit traditional or even old-timey. No surprise, then, that "Ladies' Home Journal" dropped its "The" a while ago.
The key in this case is that Teachers Guide is Plural Possessive.
Proper form is "Teachers' Guide". The apostrophe goes at the end.
Check out this "Advanced (plural) possession" video from the Khan Academy.