Monthly Archives: March 2011

Apostrophes: a basic guide

It’s National Grammar Day in the US, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a related blogpost (and a plea to my fellow countrymen to institute such a thing on our shores).

I’ve noticed a few of my Facebook friends have issues with using apostrophe’s* and so in a spirit of helpfulness (and not at all because a misplaced punctuation mark reminds me of the sound of nails on blackboard) I thought I would write a no-nonsense guide to using them. I’m still trying to decide if I should tag the culprits in a you-need-to-read-this kind of way. What is the etiquette? Has anyone found a way of gently, lovingly yet a little forcefully pointing out that the person in question really does need to have a quick read of this helpful little blogpost?
I’m not going to go into all the complexities. There are three main points you need to remember.
1) APOSTROPHES ARE USED WHERE A LETTER IS MISSING.
For example, he can’t, instead of he cannot. I don’t, instead of I do not.
2) APOSTROPHES ARE USED TO SHOW POSSESSION.
The king’s speech.
The girl’s bicycle.
If the thing you are talking about is plural, ie if there are two girls and two bicycles, the apostrophe goes after the s, like this:
The girls’ bicycles

Sometimes, it’s not massively clear that there is a possession, for example in two weeks’ notice or last month’s meeting. In cases like this, substitute one: one week notice doesn’t sound right; even with one there is an s; so the s is not a plural. That means you put an apostrophe there.
3) APOSTROPHES ARE NEVER, EVER USED TO PLURALISE ANYTHING.
If you need to say there is more than one of something, you never, ever (unless you’re writing in Dutch) add an apostrophe. Sometimes, you have to change the spelling a little:
When something ends in a vowel, like potato, you need to add an e: potatoes.

If a word ends in a y, like country, you have to change the spelling thus: countries.
4) APOSTROPHES ARE IMPORTANT
But you knew that already, didn’t you?
(*this is me attempting to be funny. Because we never pluralise with apostrophes. Never!)
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