Apostrophes: Use Them the Right Way

Apostrophes are possibly one of the most incorrectly used punctuation marks in the English language. They serve two purposes: creating contractions and showing possession. Yep, that’s it. Now, admittedly, if you ask someone else, you’ll likely get a different response, but to me (and to everything I learned back in 7th grade), apostrophes have just two purposes.

An apostrophe is absolutely NEVER used to make a word plural. 

Contractions

A contraction exists when two words are combined into one, with one or more letters removed. The apostrophe takes the place of the removed letters.

  • Cannot = can’t
  • Did not = didn’t

It gets a little weird with the word won’t, which is the contraction for will not. Notice the word doesn’t become willn’t–because that isn’t a word.

The words it’s and its are also confusing at times.

  • Contraction: It is = it’s
  • Possession: The dog chased its tail.

Possession

For singular nouns not ending in s, we add an apostrophe-s to the end of the word.

  • That pen is Sara’s.
  • This is the dog’s toy.

For singular nouns ending in s, we add an additional apostrophe-s to the end of the word.

  • Something in the lens’s case is scratching it.
  • The dress’s hem is torn.

For plural nouns ending in s, we simply add an apostrophe after the s.

  • These are the dogs’ toys.
  • We are going to the Nelsons’ house for dinner.

For plural nouns not ending in s, we add an apostrophe-s to the end of the word.

  • The books belong in the children’s rooms.
  • You’ll find more clothing in the men’s section.

Acronyms, Names, and Numbers–and Other Funny Words

The trickiest rules come into play with acronyms, names, and numbers. These rules are also the most debated. Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you choose a style and stick with it–whether your chosen style is “right” or “wrong.” There’s also great debate about the use of an apostrophe with single letters (A, B, C) and words that end in vowels. To me, though, apostrophes are still NEVER used to make acronyms, names, and numbers (and any other “unusual” words) plural.

  • Ten DVDs are on the shelf.
  • Please return your RSVPs by Friday.
  • Happy Holidays from the Millers! 
    • Note: if the last name ends in s already, you need to add es to the end to make the name plural: Happy Holidays from the Joneses!
    • If the above seems awkward, simply rewrite it: Happy Holidays from the Jones Family!
  • I grew up in the 1990s.
    • Contractions still apply here: I grew up in the ’90s.
    • In the above case, the missing numbers are 19, so the apostrophe is placed in their place.
  • Josh received all As on his report card.
  • Follow this list of dos and don’ts. 

 

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