A guide to using apostrophes

apostrophesFor some reason, where to put apostrophes can cause a great deal of confusion. Here are some guidance points and warnings of common pitfalls:

  • Despite the frequent occurrence of the greengrocer’s apostrophe as per the photo above, apostrophes are NEVER used to denote plurals. So the word in this photo is wrong. It should be ‘tomatoes’ of course.
  • Apostrophes indicate the possessive case (two girls’ hats, the cat’s whiskers) or the omission of letters in contraction (don’t, won’t).
  • The apostrophe comes before the “s” in singular words and after the “s” in plural forms. eg: there was a boy’s hat on the ground; the twins’ new bicycles.
  • However, there are some exceptions when a plural does not end in “s”. eg: women’s, men’s children’s.
  • “it’s” means “it is; “its” means “of it”.
  • Boeing 707s, 1980s, size 9s do not take an apostrophe.
  • MPs, PCs and so on are plurals and do not take an apostrophe (unless, of course, the possessive form is required: the MP’s home).
  • Place names can cause confusion: Land’s End, Bury St. Edmonds.
  • Elision is where the apostrophe is used to link shortened words (we’re, he’s). This is becoming more usual in newspaper headlines and feature articles, but is generally best to be avoided for copy writing purposes.
  • There is no additional “s” in the possessive if the word already ends in “s” and if this extra “s” would not be sounded in speech. eg: The Times’ diary page, for goodness’ sake.  But if the “s” is sounded, then the extra “s” is written.  eg: St James’s Square, John Lewis’s sale.