Top Punctuation Howlers – The Apostrophe

Possession, Contraction, Omission, and Other Apostrophe Tips

Similar to the many accents and dialects of the English language, there are many punctuation rules that vary from region to region. Many Expert Authors will follow a style guide, such as APA, Chicago, MLA, The Associate Press, etc. to ensure their writing is consistent and to uphold their credibility. You may choose a particular style based on your audience, your niche, etc. Whatever the style you use, make sure you are consistent throughout your articles.

Which brings us to today’s top punctuation howler: The Apostrophe.

Have you ever walked past an eatery and cringed when you saw the daily menu: “Come on in! Were serving burger’s, frie’s, and salad’s”?

Did it make you think: “Why would you tell me what you were serving? Or is a werewolf taking lunch orders? And what’s with the burger, the fry, and the salad? Are they fighting over possessing some mysterious object?” And then you might think it’s probably best not to go into that eatery for lunch.

If only the owners of the eatery had followed these basic apostrophe tips! Prevent confusion and uphold your credibility by using these apostrophe tips:

Possession

The apostrophe is used when indicating ownership. For example:

  • Singular Nouns: Fred’s house is around the corner.
  • Indefinite Pronouns: That’s someone else’s gum.
  • Compound Nouns: The Duchess of Cambridge’s hats are made by a milliner.
  • Hyphenated Nouns: Her mother-in-law’s car was due for maintenance.
  • Two or More Nouns (Share Possession): Lenny and George’s store is closed.
  • Two or More Nouns (Don’t Share Possession): They washed Bob’s and Sue’s pants.
  • Plural Nouns (End in S): The gorillas’ habitat has a lot of vegetation.
  • Plural Nouns: The children’s toys were all over the floor.

Additional possession and plural tips to bear in mind:

  • Don’t use an apostrophe with pronominal possessives: “Are these cupcakes yours, hers, theirs, ours, or its?” she asked as she pointed to the dog.
  • Don’t use an apostrophe to show the plural of proper nouns: The Smiths are coming over for dinner.
  • Idiomatic or special expressions, e.g. “my heart’s desire,” “a year’s wages,” etc., are often written with an apostrophe s.

Contractions

In contractions, an apostrophe is used when omitting a letter (or letters). For example:

  • It’s a lovely day.” vs. “It is a lovely day.”
  • Don’t touch the hot stove.” vs. “Do not touch the hot stove.”
  • You’re the wizard?” vs. “You are the wizard?”
  • “I should’ve gone to sleep.” vs. “I should have gone to sleep.”

Tip: If you choose to use contractions in your articles, don’t mix and match, e.g. “I could have used contractions in my article, but could’ve, should have, would’ve.”

Omitted Numbers and Letters

When omitting a number from a year, use an apostrophe e.g. “Party like it’s ’99.” vs. “Party like it’s 1999.” An apostrophe is also used when dropping off a letter in a few colloquial dialects as well as in some forms of poetic prose. For example:

  • “We’re goin’ (going) ridin’ (riding) and we’ll listen to our good ol’ (old) country ‘n’ (and) western music.”
  • “No child o’ (of) mine would steal.”
  • “Lest ye be judg’d (judged).”

Use these apostrophe tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. We will have more punctuation howlers coming up in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles.

Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the period here!

35 Comments »


1
Uschi Wilson writes:

Great refresher, thank you!

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 9:16 AM

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2
Danny Boy Grapa writes:

Thank you, this one got me clicking when I received the email. It sounded funny but really is as serious as one’s credibility.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 9:37 AM

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3
Becca Chopra writes:

When I edit other people’s works, I am amazed at how many people use it’s as a possessive. Thanks for posting this info – it’s really needed!

You asked for suggestions on the next punctuation howler. I don’t think it’s actually funny, but the semi-colon is so often misused, it’s a shame.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 12:32 PM

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Emily writes:

When I received resumes from court reporters, when I owned an office, I used to immediately toss any – and there were many – that used ‘its/it’s’ inappropriately.

Court reporters … at least back then … must be language experts.

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4
Cathy Stucker writes:

Great post, Penny. Apostrophe abuse is a pet peeve of mine.

It’s not necessarily a howler, but I see a lot of people struggle with punctuation in and around quotation marks. They don’t know if the period, comma or question mark goes inside the quotation marks or outside. And what about nested quotations (a quote within a quote)? That seems to be an area where writers could use some help.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 1:46 PM

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5
Tom Fuszard writes:

Fantastic! This column should be required reading in high school, college, and anywhere small-business owners congregate.

I’d like to add this annoying apostrophe boo-boo to your “Omitted Numbers” section:

When discussing decades, the apostrophe goes before the number, not after.

E.g. 70’s (double error there) should be:

’70s

Thanks for the column, Penny.

– Tom Fuszard
New Berlin, Wis.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 3:46 PM

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6
Linda writes:

Good evening, Penny.

I have grave reservations about the teaching of grammar in schools these days – I strongly suspect they don’t do it anymore. No wonder there’s a lot of confusion and error about.

Thank you for helping clarify for the sake of those who haven’t had the opportunity to benefit from a more formal education.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 3:49 PM

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7
Samuel Bani Dauda writes:

This is credible, thanks for the clarification.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 4:31 PM

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8
Lance Winslow writes:

One thing I’d recommend is that you consider the challenges in using voice software to write your articles because it really tends to mess up these issues. So if you use speech recognition, then please check twice carefully re-read and edit your articles – you need to know the rules, and follow them, or it just makes you look ignorant – and that’s no way to ensure that your readers will trust anything you say or any advice you give. Trust me, I’ve made many of these mistakes over the years in my own writing.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 4:49 PM

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9

Thank you. I see menu mistakes all the time!

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 5:47 PM

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10

Having always been good in spelling and grammar, I find that I cringe when I read an article or blog post with glaring errors. These are great tips.

Comment provided June 8, 2012 at 6:01 PM

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11
Schalk writes:

There is another case where I never know what to do. When using plurals of acronyms, what is the correct way – “I visit these URL’s regularly” or “I visit these URLs regularly.” The first looks wrong to me, but I see most people using it that way.

Comment provided June 9, 2012 at 1:07 AM

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Schalk –

In researching this question, we discovered that the correct answer seems to be that it depends on which particular style guide you choose to use. Some would tell you to include the apostrophe, others would tell you to leave it out. As we mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, “Many Expert Authors will follow a style guide, such as APA, Chicago, MLA, The Associate Press, etc. to ensure their writing is consistent and to uphold their credibility. You may choose a particular style based on your audience, your niche, etc. Whatever the style you use, make sure you are consistent throughout your articles.”

This is the best recommendation we can make on this issue.

– Marc

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Schalk writes:

Thanks Marc, I’m happy with your answer.

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12
John Thomson writes:

I would be led to believe that this is how the apostrophe is used in America. In Australia when I was at school about 50 years ago, the apostrophe when used before the S, was only to be used when omitting a letter or letters, as in IT’S for IT IS. The use of the apostrophe after the S was to signify possession, as in FREDS’ not FRED’S. To use the apostrophe as in FRED’S would signify FRED IS as in Fred’s sick – Fred is sick. You cannot use ‘Fred’s house is around the corner’, as this would suggest the you are saying ‘Fred is house around the corner’ which makes no sense at all. This is coming from an old fart in Australia who was brought up using the Queens’ English, and not using the Queen’s English.
I stand to be corrected if I am incorrect. Maybe this is how Americans use the English language which we know is not how other English speaking countries use this language, for example, as in the spelling of colour and color, or labour not labor, or lite and light etc. etc. Am I right or rite or write?

Comment provided June 9, 2012 at 7:58 AM

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John,

According to both the Style Guide for the European Commission and the Oxford Style Guide, nouns ending in -s, including proper names and abbreviations, form their singular possessive with -’s, just like nouns ending in other letters. As in:

… an actress’s pay; Mr Jones’s paper; Helios’s future is uncertain; AWACS’s success …

Note that some place names also omit the apostrophe (Earls Court, Kings Cross). Possessives of proper names in titles (e.g. Chambers Dictionary) sometimes omit the apostrophe as well. There is no apostrophe in Achilles tendon.

HOWEVER, Plurals of abbreviations (MEPs, OCTs, SMEs, UFOs, VDUs) do not take an apostrophe.

As always, the English language is wonderfully confusing and full of exceptions to any given rule.

– Marc

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Dave Keays writes:

“the English language is wonderfully confusing and full of exceptions to any given rule” As is Hindi, a language I was once told was “pure” and precise. But there are hidden sounds (a) that sometimes show-up where they don’t belong, inconsistent declinations (gender), and many ambiguous references (articles and time differences).

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Edmund Sykes writes:

Spanish is very precise, although there are a few gramatical traps, they are easily overcome. The great thing is the pronuciation; every word is pronounced exactly as it is written. I have the utmost esteem for anyone who learns English as a second language and can work out that bough and bow are pronounced the same but that bow can also sound like tow which is pronounced as toe is.

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Dave Keays writes:

Hindi is a phonic language just like Spanish, but it has some different sounds that are hard for a native English speaker. Hindi’s dal and dhal (both with retroflex and dental variations) all sound the same to me. These are four distinct words each beginning with a different consonent all with the same sound leaving non-native speakers to figure the meaning out by context.

Then there are the idiomas like yesterday and tomorrow. being the same word (kal). I assume Spanish has a few too.

Learning a language so different yet so much the same makes English less of a jumble of arbitrary rules and just another way of applying rules to communicate abstract ideas.

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Schalk writes:

In South Africa were were also taught that possession is indicated using ‘s (singular) and s’ (plural) so it is not just an american way of spelling…

I do believe that the context in which the ‘s is used will in most cases make it clear whether it is meant to be read for possession or for replacing a word.

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Edmund Sykes writes:

You can and should use an apostrophe for Fred’s house is around the corner. The abreviation in this case is Fred his house is around the corner and comes from old English.

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13
kosgey writes:

good improvement of grammar is a challenging idea

Comment provided June 9, 2012 at 10:24 AM

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14
Dave Keays writes:

I’d like to mention two things here.

FIrst, decades ago someone helped me distinguish the rule breaker (possession in nuetral pronouns- its v.s it’s) by asking me if other possessive pronoun (his or hers) used an apostrophe.

Second, thanks for not stepping on my pet peive like most articles about the apostrophe do- they say not to use them in acronyms. But the ‘S’ can change the meaning of the phrase (a much bigger sin than going against the standards). For example; is HTTPS multiple network connections or is it a secure connection? HTTP’s preserves the acronym while allowing for morhpology alternations.

Comment provided June 9, 2012 at 6:56 PM

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John Thomson writes:

In reply to Dave Keays,
I know that this reply is not entirely on topic, however I wish to point out that I believe that the correct spelling NEUTRAL PRONOUNS not NUETRAL PRONOUNS and it is also PET PEEVE and not PET PEIVE. (These are the Australian spellings).

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15
mary writes:

Thank goodness there are still some people who care about the use and misuse of the English language. While not perfect, I prefer not to be totally stupid!

Comment provided June 11, 2012 at 8:34 PM

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16
knee surgeons writes:

The apostrophe sign is very simple with a big importance in a sentence. Though there are various style of writing but we should keep concentrate on the basic of it where in every language punctuations are followed strictly to meet the demands of literature. Thanks for a worthy focus.

Comment provided June 12, 2012 at 2:17 AM

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17
Vijay Khosla writes:

Yes, it is true that at times I get mad at the silly mistakes made by the learned friends!
While I may not be word perfect… yet, try to improve upon it.

Comment provided June 13, 2012 at 3:04 AM

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18
Kevin writes:

The problem I have with the apostrophe in internet writing is the inability of some computers to read them. When the apostrophe or other puctuation are used such as exclamation or question marks, they are often translated by computer in stars and boxes among the words of the article.

Comment provided June 15, 2012 at 12:24 PM

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19
Patti Winker writes:

Y’all are so right! ;)

Comment provided June 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

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20
Leo Goss writes:

Count me in as another one of the cringers when I see apostrophes where they shouldn’t be. Not long ago, a couple of guys were touring the USA on a voluntary and fun mission to correct the use of the apostrophe.

Some of the examples they gave were funny, and some made me just shake my head; but the results were amusing and they did have fun. I think they even got some coverage in the Chicago Tribune.

Comment provided June 26, 2012 at 1:16 PM

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21
Edmund Sykes writes:

Thanks for this post, it’s so important. However, I thought there could be a degree of clarification about the Smiths’ dinner. We are going to the Smiths for dinner as opposed to the Smiths’ dinner was great fun.

Comment provided June 27, 2012 at 1:52 PM

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22
Edmund Sykes writes:

A possible few subjects for more of your learned posts:

Is the plural of stadium, stadia?

Is it correct to say an hotel?

My mother used to write “showed” as “shewed” what do you think about this?

Comment provided June 27, 2012 at 2:00 PM

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23
Leon Noone writes:

G’Day Penny,
The best explanation of the use of the apostrophe is in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lyn Truss. It’s an excellent book about punctuation and hilariously funny as well.
Bst Wishes
Leon

Comment provided July 7, 2012 at 2:58 PM

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24
Randall Magwood writes:

I’m so used to typing on my computer without apostrophes, that when I joined EzineArticles, I knew I have to improve on my grammar.

Luckily, blog posts like this give me a refresher as to how to sound proper and still dish out a good article at the same time. Thanks!

Comment provided August 4, 2012 at 8:06 PM

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25
Kim Dion writes:

Just when you think you have a template style down, them you have the heading worked out, on to opening paragraph.

You have to hold your audience attention with interesting content that leads them to your author box.

Now we have to worry about grammar. You will make us into Expert Authors by the time were done.

Great information,

Thanks

Kim D.

Comment provided February 5, 2013 at 12:13 AM

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