I incorrectly assumed the following question involved plural possession. However, even if it did, is it ever acceptable to use an apostrophe for plural possession in a hyphenated word like this?

Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk is a master of paj ntaub, or "flower cloth" embroidery, the most difficult of the century's-oldest Hmong needlework arts.

F. No Change G. centuries-old H. centuries'-old J. century's-old

I was tripped up by all apostrophes among the answer choices and assumed possession was involved and chose H. If plural possession was involved you do want to write out the plural form and add an apostrophe to the "s" like in choice H. However, is it ever appropriate to add an apostrophe to a hyphenated word?

  • Did you mistakenly type 'oldest'? – amI Oct 21 '18 at 6:07
  • No. It's an ACT question so in this case "F - No Change" is incorrect. The answer is G. However, I was mainly asking about whether using an apostrophe to show possession is ever appropriate with hyphenated words. – user27343 Oct 21 '18 at 6:25
  • The apostrophe in your sentence is correct—but the hyphen is not. (Assuming you keep it as oldest.) Of the choices available in the question, the only correct one is G. – Jason Bassford Oct 21 '18 at 17:46
  • Thank you. So just to clarify you can't use an apostrophe and a hyphen at the same time? – user27343 Oct 23 '18 at 2:14

In this case, the determining factor is not whether you can use an apostrophe and a hyphen at the same time. The apostrophe simply does not belong in the correct answer G because there is no possession. "Centuries-old" just means that something is as old as several centuries; nothing belongs to the centuries.

I'm not sure that I would say that you can never use a possessive apostrophe and a hyphen at the same time. I can't think of any examples of when you would use them together, but I also can't think of a rule that forbids them. Again, the issue here is really that there is no possession in the phrase.

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  • Thank you, for your answer. I agree there's no possession, but I'm still uncertain about apostrophes with hyphens. I'm also not aware of any rule forbidding it so it's probably OK. – user27343 Oct 26 '18 at 17:30
  • @user27343 I still can't come up with an example where it would make sense to have an apostrophe with a hyphen. If you think you come across a case where it would make sense, it would be great to post a new follow up question. – Tashus Oct 26 '18 at 17:36

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