When to use an apostrophe

I don’t know about you but it really bugs me when I see an apostrophe being used incorrectly. If you have a reputation to uphold then the last thing you want to do is damage it by sending out written material that contains errors.

You wouldn’t believe the problems this tiny little punctuation mark can cause. It’s so insignificant you probably don’t even notice it when you’re reading at normal speed….

….and that’s the nub of the issue. People either don’t notice it’s there (or not) or they don’t notice whether it’s correct (or not), but for pedants like me, I do notice it!

So, let’s have a quick look at the only two instances when an apostrophe should be used.

To show that something belongs to someone, e.g.

Singular nouns and personal names:

The dog’s tail – says that the tail belongs to the dog.

John’s car – says that the car belongs to John.

Personal names that end in –s:

Charles’s ball – says that the ball belongs to Charles.

BUT some place names are an exception to this rule, e.g. St Thomas’ Hospital

Plural nouns that end in –s:

The dogs’ bowls – says that the bowls belong to some dogs.

Employees’ workplace – says that the workplace belongs to the employees.

Plural nouns not ending in –s:

The men’s hats – says that the hats belong to the men.

The children’s toys – says that the toys belong to the children.

The women’s coats – says the coats belong to the women.

To show that letters have been left out, e.g.

I’m – short for ‘I am’

They’re – short for ‘they are’

Didn’t – short for ‘did not’

He’ll – short for ‘he will’

It’s – short for ‘it is’

The apostrophe goes where the letters have been missed out and are used this way in informal writing. You should not shorten words when you are writing formal letters or emails.

One of the commonest mistakes I see is where people use an apostrophe to express a plural, especially when figures are involved, e.g.

In the 1980’s…

This is incorrect because it’s talking about the decade from 1980 to 1989 so it’s a plural and should be written ‘1980s’.

As a proofreader this kind of mistake is the sort of thing that I’m on the lookout for, not just because I’m a pedant, but to ensure that your writing is accurate, looks professional and is error-free. This gives you peace of mind safe in the knowledge that whatever you’re publishing will mean your readers will focus on your message or the meaning of your content and not looking for the next mistake.

If you would like me to help you to ‘get it right first time’, then please contact me on:

T: 07843 304743

E: peter@ppgproofreading.co.uk

Speak soon

Peter Clarke

aka The OopsProofer & Crimson Crab Reputation Advocate

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