Repeated misuse of the possessive apostrophe in your writing makes you look stupid. OK, if you don’t claim to be a copywriter, journalist, or other professional writer, most people will probably cut you some slack for including an errant apostrophe in your blogs and emails. But proper use of this little placeholder is easy to master, so make an effort to get it right. You’ll look instantly smarter to other smart people who read your content — #rockstar.
Schools don’t teach punctuation the way they used to. So lots of people who don’t write for a living, and who’ve been out of academics a while, don’t remember a thing about these rules. I don’t expect everyone to write like a pro, but reading the various blogs and other articles on the Web would be a lot nicer if your typical hobby blogger used proper punctuation. Sadly, I know of at least one self-proclaimed copywriter and editor who regularly publishes content on her blog, and also in a little free column she writes, with misused apostrophes. And, she’s most likely not the only one out there without an apostro-clue.
Hence, the humble apostrophe represents one of the most abused and misused punctuation marks in our language.
An Apostrophe and the Letter S
Do not use an apostrophe just because a word ends in S. This marks one of the most common errors in apostrophe use and it truly does make the author look stupid. I’ve seen this most frequently with non-possessive plural nouns, but people do it with verbs too.
Examples (I’ve actually seen many of these in real life. Ugh!):
- How do dad’s do it?
- Dolphin’s are my favorite animals.
- Fresh peach pie’s for sale.
- Please place dirty coffee mug’s on the tray.
- Once the bird fly’s away for winter, it won’t return until spring.
- She eat’s out with her lover every day.
For the love of all things holy, please, stop doing this!
The apostrophe, in general, does one of two things:
- Creates a possessive noun
- Indicates an omission of letters
I’m examining the proper use of the possessive apostrophe in this post. Its use in contractions will require an entirely separate story.
Obey the Apostrophe!
In English, we use the possessive apostrophe to indicate who owns what. Sure, people misuse it in contractions too, but the possessive apostrophe causes the most grief. It’s almost as if the writer has some faint, barely-there recollection of using it in school, so they throw a few in for good measure. Absolutely maddening! One of my favorite books about punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss follows a zero tolerance approach to punctuation. Not only does Truss make punctuation interesting, you’ll learn something too.
The possessive apostrophe makes a bold statement about ownership. It shows that he belongs to her, this belongs to that, he own this, they own that, etc.
Add an apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun that doesn’t end in s.
The girl’s Jeep pulled the Rover out of the mud.
The dolphin’s fin appeared above the water.
Add an apostrophe s to the end of a singular noun that ends in s (with some exceptions).
Put Thomas’s wallet down on the table.
That is Doris’s Sig Sauer handgun.
Add an apostrophe s to a plural noun that doesn’t end in s.
The men’s room is around the corner.
The deer’s horns became stuck in the dead tree.
Just add an apostrophe (and no s!) to the end of plural nouns that end in s.
My friends’ cars all had slashed tires.
The frightened cat ran into the dogs’ kennels.
Finally, check out this fantastic example of how a simple apostrophe can change the entire meaning of a sentence:
My brother’s friend’s shoes (Indicates one brother with one friend.)
My brothers’ friends’ shoes (Indicates two or more brothers with two or more friends.)
My brothers’ friend’s shoes (Indicates two or more brothers with their one friend.)
My brother’s friends’ shoes (Indicates one brother and he has two or more friends.)
Watch this cute video about possessive apostrophes. It includes real pictures of apostrophe abuse in businesses and elsewhere.
Just for grins, check out the Apostrophe Catastrophe website, showcasing the world’s worst punctuation.
Got any crazy punctuation stories to share? I’d love to hear them.
Photo: beach girl from asia.cnet.com