The apostrophe: It's important to know its usage

Kerry A. Thompson Blog: The apostrophe

I’ve seen enough misuses of the handy apostrophe lately that I decided to devote a blog post to the dos and don’ts of using apostrophes.

I came up with this four-sentence poem to represent the three usages of an apostrophe and the one time you shouldn’t use it. It’s a really bad poem, I know, but it covers the main points.

If something’s owned, that’s apostrophe’s zone.
If two words are kissing, an apostrophe’s missing.
If a word’s too short, add an apostrophe, sport.
If there’s more than one, skip the apostrophe, hon.

If something’s owned, that’s apostrophe’s zone

One of the main uses of the apostrophe is to denote possession, making it clear who owns what. The apostrophe is usually placed before the s, but if you’re referring to a plural who or what, the apostrophe is placed after the s. One other curiosity is that for a singular word that ends with s, the apostrophe gets placed after the s.

Examples

Richard’s antics left everyone in stitches.
If we don’t find the baby’s favorite stuffed animal, no one will get any sleep tonight.
All our town’s businesses’ signs were damaged by the storm.
The Jones’ mailbox has a dent in it.
Charles’ favorite soup is chicken noodle.

Its and whose are the two exceptions

When the belonging refers to the word “it,” you add an “s” without an apostrophe:

Although the ocean is beautiful, its waves can knock you over if you’re not careful.
It’s not a full moon, but its light is bright enough to see across the yard.

When the belonging refers to who, you add “se” without an apostrophe:

Who’s up next? Does anybody remember whose turn it is?

If two words are kissing, an apostrophe’s missing

When two words are combined to create a contraction, the apostrophe fills in for the missing letter or letters.

Examples

Don’t forget to use an apostrophe when you’re writing a contraction.
If you forget to walk the dog before you go to work, it’s going to be a panic situation by lunchtime.
You’re going to be late for your own birthday party.
Shouldn’t you call your mother more often?

If a word’s too short, add an apostrophe, sport

Although not as frequently used in business writing, an apostrophe also stands in when a word is shortened to sound like spoken language.

Examples

Fussin’ over your hair before gettin’ on a motorcycle doesn’t make much sense.
It’s all fun ’n’ games ’til someone gets hurt.
Mid-century modern was a popular design style in the ’50s.

If there’s more than one, skip the apostrophe, hon

If you have a plural word that isn’t possessive, do not use an apostrophe. This is the error I see most often, when people add an apostrophe where there shouldn’t be one.

Examples

You’ll learn the how-tos of the business world in this course.
Understanding the dos and don’ts of grammar doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
The 1960s were an era to remember, but the disco scene of the ’80s is best forgotten.
The Joneses settled this town, but the Smiths have made their mark too.

Now that you’ve learned a few how-tos for using the helpful apostrophe, you won’t be afraid to use it to its full potential. Your writin’ will be amazin’!


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