The Grammarphobia Blog

What is your heart’s desire?

Q: I am guessing that there should be an apostrophe in “My heart’s desire is a Lab puppy,” since the desire belongs to the heart. Am I right?

A: Yes, there’s a possessive apostrophe. The phrase is properly written “heart’s desire,” as in “Those diamond stud earrings are my heart’s desire,” or “His heart’s desire was a six-pack and a large pizza with double cheese.”

Here, “my heart’s desire” is equivalent to “the desire of my heart.” Both are possessive constructions. By the way, we had a posting a while back about the history of the apostrophe in possessive constructions.

The expression “heart’s desire” dates back at least as far as the 14th century, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary. This was before the apostrophe showed up in English, and when “es” was the possessive ending for most nouns.

The phrase first appeared in writing, according to OED citations, in a Middle English poem, The Gestes of the Worthie King and Emperour, Alisaunder of Macedoine (1340-70): “Hee hoped to haue there of his hertes desyres.”

Here’s a later example with modern punctuation, from a piece by Richard Steele in the Tatler (1709): “Farewel my Terentia, my Heart’s Desire, farewel.”

And if YOUR heart’s desire really is a Lab puppy, go for it! We recently welcomed a golden retriever puppy into our home.

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