Grammar

Apostrophe Apocalypse

grammar punctuation

When was the last time you used an apostrophe? Do you recall? Do you remember why you used it?

We all make grammar mistakes. There are occasionally old entries that I edit months later to remove grammar problems or misspelled words. Call me anal-retentive when it comes to grammar and typos.

In that spirit, I hope you will forgive me for mentioning the proper way to use apostrophes. I regularly stumble across incorrect usage of them. When I read other people’s writing, there are certain mistakes that leap off the page at me, and apostrophe errors fall into that category.

These days they’re used incorrectly more often than correctly, it seems. I don’t really expect anyone to change their writing style just for me…but when you write, you should always be correct unless you have a specific reason for being non-grammatical.

What’s the proper way to use an apostrophe?

RULE #1: Apostrophes are used to show possessives:
Susan’s car
The dog’s toy
St. Patrick’s Day

RULE #2: Apostrophes are used in contractions to indicate missing letters:
Don’t
Can’t
Y’all

SNAG #1: There are two cases when those two rules cause confusion:
Whose vs. Who’s
Its vs. It’s

For a pronoun, an apostrophe must mean a contraction.
Who’s = WHO IS
It’s = IT IS

If you say, “The dog lost it’s toy,” you’re really saying, “The dog lost it is toy.”

RULE #3: Apostrophes are not used to make words plural!

Remember that rule, please. The following sentences, typical of what I see every day, are all incorrect:

WRONG: My two brother’s get on my nerves.
WRONG: I got three telephone call’s in ten minutes.
WRONG: I returned my book’s to the library.

Drop the apostrophes! All you need is the “s” at the end.

Even for abbreviations or numbers, you do not need apostrophes!

CORRECT: In the 1990s, the movement found a new following.
CORRECT: The B-52s were shown at the aviation exhibit.
CORRECT: He earned two BAs in college.

SNAG #2: There are only two occasions in which you can get away with an apostrophe to make something plural.

When you are dealing with abbreviations that use only lower case letters, or when you’re dealing with an abbreviation that uses upper case letters but ends with an “s:”

CORRECT: Mind your p’s and q’s.
CORRECT: The ship sent out three SOS’s before it sank.

I promise that I won’t complain if you use the dreaded apostrophe incorrectly, although I can’t promise the same of your copyeditor.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.