Editing Grammar Writing

Apostrophe Use & Abuse

It should be pretty easy to remember how to use an apostrophe since there are so few uses. An apostrophe is used to show possession and omission. Yet, this tiny punctuation hook seems to cause a lot of problems for writers.

Pronouns do not need an apostrophe when showing possession. Your opinion is yours.

For plural possession, place the apostrophe after the s. That can get tricky when a name ends in s. James’s birthday or James’ birthday are both considered correct, although one just looks a little cleaner than the other.

When something is omitted—most commonly in a contractionbut also to denote other forms of casual/lazy speech: somethin’s up here=something is up here. O’clock=of the clock.

This would be a good place to discuss it’s vs its. One is a contraction for it is and the other is a possessive pronoun—which we already know does not require an apostrophe.

The music of the 1960s is ’60s’ music. Music was fabulous in the ’60s.

Common problem causers: Mothers Day (Chicago Manual says Mother’s Day—but what if you have 2 mothers? And, isn’t it a day for all mothers?). Writers’ Group if it’s a group for writers; one writer does not a group make. Farmers’ Market or Farmer’s Market? I’m sure more than one farmer is there.

Apostrophes are also sometimes used to separate letters if there might be confusion. Using an ’s to make a plural to prevent misreading: Dot all your i’s. Do’s and don’ts not does.

Overly creative apostrophe use, although potentially entertaining, will likely just distract your readers and have them questioning your credibility.

The Apostrophe Protection Society was started by John Richards in Britain about 20 years ago. He recently decided to close down the society due to his age (96) and a seeming lack of interest from people. This threat served to massively increase demand on the site—to the point the bandwidth was exceeded. Consequently, the website has only closed down to renew itself and expects to be fully operational by the New Year. You will be able to read about apostrophe atrocities and post your own.

Please support the proper use of punctuation!

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