Is there any other punctuation mark in the English language as misused and abused as the poor ol’ apostrophe? (See what I did there? For those who didn’t – do read on!).


Alas apostrophes are seen in the strangest of places these days, not least to make a noun plural, when they really should not be there at all. Here are some apostrophe catastrophes I’ve seen around and about recently:

  • We build equestrian arena’s (on the back of a van)
  • Dog treat’s (signboard outside a pet accessories store)
  • Motorcycle’s and jetski’s (sign over a motorcycle shop)
  • Eyebrow’s waxed here (outside a beauty salon)
  • We print, we design business cards, flyer’s and banners (outside, horror, a printing company!).

(These ignorant folks aren’t the only ones committing such crimes of grammar – take a look at some classic apostrophe abuse over here…)

You may not think a humble punctuation mark makes much of a difference to your business communications or brand image, but the following poster may make you think twice…


Apostrophe Abuse? Not on my watch!

Despite the fact that so many people get it so wrong, apostrophe use is really not at all difficult to master. Here’s how to use an apostrophe correctly in five easy steps:

STEP ONE: Never Use an Apostrophe to Make a Noun Plural

To show the plural form of nouns, simply add an ‘s’ and not an apostrophe followed by an ‘s’, like so:

  • Equestrian arenas
  • Motorcycles and jetskis
  • Treats
  • Eyebrows
  • Flyers.

STEP TWO: Use an Apostrophe to Show Possession or Omission

  • Apostrophes are used to show:
  • Possession – that one thing belongs or relates to another
  • Omission – when letters or numbers have been left out
  • Contraction – an extension of the above, where letters are omitted and the word contracted or made shorter.

Possession

In many other languages, like French, there is no apostrophe to show possession. Instead, one takes the long way around when showing relations between objects – ‘the mother of my wife’, ‘the bike of Billy’ or ‘the notepad of the marketing assistant’. In English, the apostrophe helps us take a language shortcut, like this:

  • Billy’s new mountain bike is great!
  • Katy’s mother-in-law is a real dragon
  • The marketing assistant’s notepad is in the boardroom.

Omission

Use an apostrophe to show the reader what has been left out:

  • In the summer of ’69 (where the apostrophe indicates the missing numbers ‘1’ and ‘9’)
  • Good ol’ days (where the apostrophe indicates the missing letter ‘d’)
  • Clean livin’ (where the apostrophe indicates the missing letter ‘g’).

TIP: The apostrophe always faces the direction of the missing letters.

Contraction

Contractions are when two words are combined into one for the sake of brevity. Some common words for which apostrophes are used to show contractions include:

  • I’m = I am
  • You’re = You are
  • Can’t  = cannot
  • Won’t = will not
  • Wouldn’t = would not
  • Shouldn’t = should not.

And are used like so:

  • We’re leaving in the morning (note: not ‘we leaving’!)
  • Billy can’t kick the ball very well
  • Katy won’t see her mother-in-law today
  • The marketing assistant shouldn’t leave her notepad in the boardroom.

STEP THREE: Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Knot Over Possession and Plurals!

There are but two rules to follow:

No. 1: If the plural word doesn’t end in an ‘s’, then use an apostrophe to show possession:

  • Children’s games
  • Women’s shoes
  • Men’s trousers.

No. 2: If the plural word does end in an ‘s’, then add the apostrophe after the ‘s’ to show possession, like so:

  • Players’ change-room
  • Girls’ playground
  • Teachers’ car park.

Hang on…What happens when a person’s name ends in ‘s’?

Hold your horses! Either…

Add an apostrophe and an ‘s’ after the person’s name, like this:

  • Thomas’s car
  • Charles’s bike.

Or you may choose to just add the apostrophe, like this:

  • Thomas’ car
  • Charles’ bike.

Whilst both are acceptable, the latter sounds less clumsy. Whichever way you choose when writing a given text, though, do stick to it for the sake of editorial consistency.

What About Acronyms and Abbreviations?

Don’t use an apostrophe when pluralising abbreviations and acronyms, or to pluralise numbers:

  • Drs (not Dr’s)
  • CEOs (not CEO’s)
  • SMSs (not SMS’s)
  • CDs (not CD’s)
  • JPEGs (not JPEG’s)
  • 1980s (not 1980’s), etc.

The exception: Use an apostrophe when referring to letters as objects, for example:

  • Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
  • T’s and c’s apply.

STEP FOUR: Is it Its or It’s?

This one stirs up confusion, although it’s not hard when you know how!

The word ‘its’ shows possession or relation, so don’t use an apostrophe. Like so:

  • Our soccer team has lost its star player.
  • That school is known for its strict headmaster
  • Durban is famous for its spicy food.

But, ‘it’s’ is a contraction for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Use an apostrophe, like this:

  • Our soccer team knows it’s (it is) top of the log
  • Perhaps it’s (it is) for the best
  • It’s (it has) been a big adjustment.

STEP FIVE: When it doubt, leave it out!

If you’re not sure whether or not to use an apostrophe, then rather err on the side of caution and leave it out!

For corporate communications sans apostrophe abuse, get in touch!