We feel sorry for the little apostrophe. It is so abused, so often made to do what it shouldn’t, and so often forgotten when needed. The apostrophe is a proud punctuation mark with specific purposes and does not deserve to be misused.
Again and again we see the same two abuses of this punctuation mark, not just in the pieces we edit but all around us in the “real” world. We’ll discuss two of those abuses here, and we’ll hope to restore some of the respect the apostrophe deserves.
Abuse #1: Plurals
To say it plainly: don’t use apostrophes to make plurals. Sentences such as Get your hamburger’s here are simply wrong. The little apostrophe was not meant to make one hamburger into multiple hamburgers.
Here are a few other samples of the apostrophe being pressed into the wrong service:
- These paper’s need correcting.
- Two boy’s were bragging about their dog’s.
- Apostrophe’s are complicated.
Why do people do this to the apostrophe? The construction ‘s is meant to show ownership (or a contraction, as in the second abuse discussed below), not a plural. Perhaps people abuse the apostrophe in this way because they don’t know the difference between ownership and plurals. Perhaps they see this abuse occurring so often that they don’t even realize it is wrong (much like using data as a singular noun although it is really a plural).
Villainous sentences like People living in the 1990’s bought a lot of CD’s certainly don’t promote virtuous use of the noble apostrophe.
Abuse #2: Contractions
To say it plainly: put the apostrophe in place of missing letters. The little apostrophe is very powerful. It can stand in for all the letters of the alphabet without breaking a sweat. Do you want to leave out part of a word? The apostrophe is on hand to take its place. The apostrophe is mighty in this way and should not be forgotten.
Here are a few correct examples of the apostrophe doing what it should:
- We don’t forget the apostrophe in contractions. The apostrophe is filling in for the missing O in do not.
- Here’s the correct use of an apostrophe. The apostrophe is filling in for the missing I in here is.
- You’re abusing the apostrophe again. The apostrophe is filling in for the missing a in you are.
This is also the rule that explains why you don’t put an apostrophe in its when using its as a possessive, as in: The apostrophe can take its place. In this sample sentence, its isn’t a contraction for it is, so you don’t use the apostrophe.
The rules for using apostrophes are very simple, so our editors are often surprised that many writers (not writer’s) make this mistake. The two cases where apostrophes are most often forgotten, in our experience, are in the words you’re and they’re. Sometimes the apostrophe is there, but it’s in the wrong place.
End Apostrophe Abuse Now
Poor apostrophe. It can do so much for you when you use it correctly. In fact, knowing how to use apostrophes correctly is a sign of being a professional writer. Let’s end apostrophe abuse and restore its dignity as a powerful and important member of your punctuation arsenal.