Do you feel okay with punctuation for possessives until you have to decide on “men’s room,” “mens’ room,” or “mens room?” Let’s investigate.
In this case, we’re talking about attributive nouns, not compounded nouns. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says an attributive noun acts as an adjective. It uses the word “city” in “city streets” as an example.
Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition 7.27) says that the line between a posssessive or genetive form and a noun used attributively (as an adjective) can be fuzzy, especially in the plural. It now omits the apostrophe only in proper (often corporate) names, or where there’s clearly no possessive meaning.
Professor Charles Darling says, “One of the most difficult decisions to make about possessives and plurals of compound words occurs when you can’t decide whether the first noun in a compound structure is acting as a noun that ought to be showing possession or as what is called an attributive noun, essentially an adjective.”
Amy Einsohn, in her book The Copyeditor’s Handbook, says, “CMS 15 7.27 discourages apostrophe-less attributive nouns (consumers’ group, not consumers group) but notes that the attributive is used in some names (Publishers Weekly, Diners Club) or where there’s clearly no possessive meaning.”
So, if you want to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, go with the following:
* a consumers’ group
* taxpayers’ association
* children’s rights
* the women’s team
* a boys’ club
* Publishers Weekly
* Diners Club
* a houswares sale
Just to be clear, let’s define some of the types of possessives
1. Compound: In compound nouns/noun phrases, the final element usually takes the possessive form. Use “of” if plural compounds present a problem. Examples: A cookbook’s index; student assistants’ time cards; my daughter-in-law’s profession (in this case, say the profession of both my daughters-in-law. (CMS 7.25)
2. Genitive: Similar to possessives, and formed like them, are some expressions based on the old genitive case. The genitive in this situation implies “of.” Examples: an hour’s delay; six months’ leave of absence (or a six-month leave of absence). (CMS 7.26)
3. Possessive: See examples above.