Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Apostrophes (and how to use them correctly)


My friend Holly recently posted this on her Facebook wall, and I thought it was too good not to share. I do agree with her comments, though: "Unfortunately, Apostrophe Man is only good with apostrophes. He needs to team up with Comma Girl and Period Boy."

But we'll talk about commas and periods later. Today's Writing Wednesday is about apostrophes. I won't go into a ton of detail, because I'll be the first to admit that grammar explanations can be dry (and I find grammar fascinating). However, there are a few common mistakes people make with commas that I'll quickly explain.

First, here are the three main purposes of an apostrophe, which may help you know better when to use one:
  • Apostrophes show possession. For example: Lindsay's car is silver. The women's club meets every Tuesday. Meet for a party at the Wilcoxes' home.
  • Apostrophes show omission. Whenever you remove a letter or a number, you generally need to replace it with a comma. This is obvious in contractions like aren't or shouldn't (where the apostrophe replaces the letter "o"), but it is also why shortened dates or time periods (like the '80s) are correctly written with an apostrophe at the beginning. Writing "80's" is incorrect.
  • Apostrophes are occasionally used for clarification. Notice that I said occasionally. One great example of using apostrophes for clarification is writing the phrase "do's and don'ts." An apostrophe is necessary for the word "do's" because without it, it looks like the word dos.
There are a lot of other questions I think about all the time (because writing and editing is my day job as well as my passion), such as whether certain phrases should be possessive or not (Veterans Day is written without an s', which drives me bananas). But these are the basic rules to follow.

Below are two examples of when you should never use apostrophes.
  • Don't use an apostrophe to make a word plural. While there are many ways to make a word plural (s, es, x, geese, mice, octopi), an apostrophe is never one of them. Keep the Apostrophe Man comic in mind and don't add apostrophes to words that don't need them. Also, since Christmas card season is nearly upon us, remember that signing your letter "From The Smith's" is not correct, either.
  • Don't use an apostrophe in the pronoun its. I know this one is a hard one for a lot of people to remember, but before you add another pen stroke or hit that key on your computer, think Does this word, if it was broken apart, mean "it is?" If it doesn't, it's a pronoun and it doesn't need an apostrophe.
Those are the basics! Did I forget any big apostrophe mishaps? Do you have any apostrophe pet peeves to share?


  1. I think you're and your drive me insane. It's almost always you're. I'm using speech-to-text for my comments, so excuse any punctuation errors!

  2. I'll admit that when I first saw the title of this post, I thought, "I've got this one in the bag." So wrong. I've been screwing up the '80s thing for YEARS... I'm sick about it! So glad I read this, because I'm pretty sure I just did this in a post recently. And I'm pretty sure I saw "fourty" in huge letters on a blog today...

  3. Make that my last two posts where I used the apostrophe incorrectly... Don't worry, I've fixed them. :) Maybe next you should do a post on the correct usage of 'ellipses', because I'm like Emily Dickinson with those things.

  4. Courtney, I think a lot of people write '80s wrong. That one doesn't really bother me -- what bothers me is when people write "your's." Seriously? It's already possessive! Good call on ellipses, too. That may just be my next Writing Wednesday. :)


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.