How to master apostrophes

When to use apostrophes

Apostrophe mistakes are always unacceptable.

That’s because they change the meaning of your words. It’s the difference between feeling you’re nuts and feeling your nuts!

The Apostrophe Protection Society agrees, and there’s even an International Apostrophe Day (August 16). One activist in Bristol corrects wrong punctuation on signs at night, vigilante style.

The confusion arises from sometimes contradictory rules, so it’s understandable that we easily make mistakes.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to get it right:

1. Is it about possession?

Yes? Use one, but not for personal possessive pronouns (its, his, yours, ours). Check this table for where to put it.

How to use apostrophes when showing possession

No? Go to question 2.

2. Is it about contraction (shortening a word or words)?

Yes? Use one, eg. it is = it’s, would have = would’ve, cannot = can’t.

No? Don’t use one.

It’s worth knowing that the possessive ’s comes from showing contraction of the Old English es suffix which made a word possessive (eg. King Richardes crown became King Richard’s crown). So you could say apostrophes are all about contraction. But check question 3.

3. Will not using one cause confusion?

You’d use one for plurals where it could confuse, for example with single letters.

Underline all the A’s and I’s, rather than As and Is.

Don’t use them for acronyms: the UFOs were great DJs.

Advanced Apostrophe Test

Placement on family names ending in S can confuse, like mine (Hales). So here’s a challenge for you. How would you use apostrophes for the following?

The daughters of Mr Jones (Mr Jone...)

The daughters of the Joneses.

The daughters of two Jones families.

Submit your answers for checking in the comments below!


Want to learn more? Have a look at my punctuation and grammar workshop which covers all the main marks and clarifies grammar confusions.

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