Where you should stick your apostrophes

Where to stick your apostrophes

Do you know where you can stick yours?

“To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as ‘Thank God its Friday’ (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence,” says Lynne Truss in her classic humorous book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

“The confusion of the possessive ‘its’ (without apostrophe) with the contractive ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian ‘kill’ response in the average stickler.”

Now, whether or not you feel like killing someone when you see an apostrophe misused is not something I want to discuss here. But for those who sometimes feel an urge to kick the cat when looking at a straying apostrophe, believe me, you’re not alone.

Not only are there a fair few organizations dedicated to the preservation of apostrophes including the UK’s The Apostrophe Protection Society, but also there is even a song about apostrophes which you might like to click on now, so we can hum along to the tune. It’s quite catchy. (Song about apostrophes by sung by BobbyJoe reproduced on the Apostrophe Protection Society website by kind permission of Bob Beckley, Nashville, TN, and gratefully borrowed here.)

So what’s the “skinny” on apostrophes, finally?

Apostrophes probably cause more anxiety than any other form of writing in English, and it’s utterly needless.

As a general rule, you use an apostrophe 1) to show possession, e.g. “Suze’s book” and 2) to create a contraction, e.g. “it’s” for “it is.” (“It’s” and “its” can be a little confusing – see below.) You do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of any kind – you just stick an “s” (or in some cases “es”) at the end of the word.

Apostrophes for plural nouns with an “s” or “es” on the end … ah, yes, this is another little quirk of the English language. If the noun is plural, e.g. “parents,” you put the apostrophe after the “s,” not before, e.g. “parents’ responsibility”

Apostrophes for plural nouns without an “s” on the end … yet another delightful quirk of the English language. With words like “people,” “children,” etc. you revert to the original format and put the apostrophe before the “s”, e.g. “people’s,” “children’s.” Well, I never said English was simple, did I?

Apostrophes to show something has been left out … like “Jo’burg” (Johannesburg) or” ‘em” (them, and yes, I know that’s slang.) Increasingly these tend to be left out; the longer a shortened version has been in use the more likely it is to become a proper word in its own right.

There are other uses of apostrophes which, like when they’re used to show an omission, are becoming increasingly rare. These include a once popular way of indicating the plural or a letter, number, acronyms, initials, etc … e.g. “mind your P’s and Q’s,” “PC’s”and “back in the 1980’s.” The purists will tell you to retain the apostrophes here but the reality is we don’t any more; what matters, only, is that the meaning is clear.

Never stick an apostrophe in the wrong place again…

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photo credit: numberstumper via photopin cc

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  1. June Schiavoni says:

    I have the proper use of “It’s” and “its” now…but am still puzzled as when to use “who” or “whom”. Please help…thank you …JS

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