A Helping Hand…Punctuation Part 2 – Apostrophes

rainbow punctuation-787593_640Right! We did semi-colons in the last tutorial (see here). I thought I would tackle the apostrophe next. It’s another member in the punctuation cast list which has only a few functions but seems to cause an awful lot of confusion.

So, children, you’ve had morning break, please go back to your desks.

Stephen! Don’t try and carry the chair with Al still on it, dear.

Chris! Please don’t put that eraser in Carol’s ear. Pardon Chris? Yes, I know it’s soft, but she still doesn’t like it.

Sorry, Jim, what did you say? You want to put your raincoat on in case it rains? It won’t rain indoors, dear. No, Yvonne certainly won’t pour water over you.

Dan, please don’t fill Lois’s satchel with milk.

Kat!!!!!!………..Please don’t do that.

(In memory of the very wonderful Joyce Grenfell)

So, if we are all sitting comfortably…

The apostrophe has three main functions:

1. To indicate possession and is placed before the ‘s’:

Carol’s ear, Daddy’s car…elephant’s trunk, cat’s paw….

If the possession is of a plural noun, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’:

Two elephants’ trunks (the trunks of two elephants), two cats’ paws (the paws of two cats), the Smiths’ daughter (the daughter of the Smiths (Mr and Mrs))

If the noun is plural but does not end in ‘s’, the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’:

Children’s toys, women’s clothes

In the case of names that end in ‘s’, eg. James, an extra ‘s’ is optional:

James’ or James’s

Either is acceptable (though consistency is important), but the latter is preferable.

Think:  ‘Of/belonging to’:

That coat is yours CORRECT

That coat is your’s INCORRECT (This would translate as That coat is of your)

That coat is Carol’s CORRECT (That coat is of/belongs to Carol)

2 Where one or more letters have been omitted, especially when two words are contracted:

Eg: Don’t (do not), won’t (will not), it’s (it is), haven’t (have not), she’d (she had or would), you’re (you are), he’s (he is or he has), can’t (cannot), singin’ in the rain.

Think: Does the sentence make sense if you uncontract.

The cat licked it’s paws INCORRECT (This would translate as: The cat licked it is paws)

The cat licked its paws CORRECT

3 Apostrophes are never used in plurals other than in very exceptional circumstances:

Mind your p’s and q’s, don’t forget to cross your t’s

This is a much rarer usage, but in this instance think if ps and qs or ts might cause confusion.  However – Ps, Qs and Ts would also be acceptable.

The Beatles were very popular in the 1990’s INCORRECT (This would translate as The Beatles were very popular in the of 1990)

The Beatles were very popular in the 1990s CORRECT

And that’s it! These are the very basic rules, but should stand you in good stead to avoid the most common misuse of the apostrophe.

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

17 thoughts on “A Helping Hand…Punctuation Part 2 – Apostrophes”

  1. Darn, that water was for the cat on Hise's lap. It hasn't been de-clawed.

    Good stuff. I think I had it all except the exceptions which I wondered about.

    Then there's who's and whose, but I have that straight now, too.

    Now, I think in the American version they told me to remove the comma after 'whose' in my last sentence. Am I wrong about that?

    1. The comma after whose is fine, Yvonne. I have that straight now, is an independent clause following a conjunction, so the comma precedes that conjunction. You are a very good pupil 😉

  2. Thank you for stopping Dan. He is incredibly naughty.

    I have this uncontrollable urge to write it's to attribute possession. It's a habit I'm trying to break.

    Thanks for clearing a couple of things up! 🙂

  3. I loved Joyce Grenfell-I think she was the reason I became a teacher.

    I hate it when I walk past a sign in a shop which might say something like 'Banana's £2.00' I have to go in and tell them they are incorrect(and exceedingly expensive.

    Thank you for clarifying this for us all. I think I should download this article, print it out and give it my local shops for future reference.

    Please Miss, Chris is sticking gum in my pigtail now can I thump him?

  4. You hit upon something in #3: The purpose of punctuation is to make the meaning clear; that is why the rules for the comma are so flexible and inscrutable.

  5. Really nicely done, Cathy; you've covered everything there in a neat-and-easy-to-digest package, thanks.

    And, please Miss, I was only trying to put the eraser in Carol's ear in case she heard what I was calling her!

    *ducks as Carol turns round to thwack him with her ruler*


  6. Nice summation, Cathy — thanks! And nice job keeping the class in order, too. 🙂

    Carol, I've seen your "banana's" apostrophe referred to as the "greengrocer's apostrophe," lol.

  7. Cathy, thank you for this very helpful post! I am also grateful to see you agree with me that if someone's last name ends in an 's', one can still use an apostrophe s after it because the s does not pluralize the name!

    Example: That is Chris's coat.

    More posts like this, please miss! Thanks Cathy!

  8. Great post, Cathy. Always need clarification reminders. I am editing a book for someone who puts the apostrophe on a name when it is not in the possessive use; should just be in the plural form only when saying, "…the Andersons were there." She likes to use the apostrophe in that situation.

    I, myself, prefer to use James', Charles', etc. The other looks funny to me, lol.

  9. As an editor and proofreader I frequently see misuse of the apostrophe, particularly on plurals like CDs and CVs and as Jacqueline above points out, in non possessive names. You've covered the bases very well. I much prefer the apostrophe s on names ending with an s. I you actually say the word out aloud it tells you by the James"es" sound that an apostrophe s is required and in fact the apostrophe also covers for the for the missing letter, the e.

    Thanks for posting, Cathy, reminders are always good. Can I be excused now?

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