Apostrophe Use

Apostrophes, or the up-hanging tick mark (') in a sentence, can be one of those make-it-or-break-it issues for a writer. If an apostrophe is used properly, it's invisible. The reader doesn't even notice it's there. However, if an apostrophe is used improperly - especially if it happens multiple times in a row - this can cause a reader to leave, never to return.

Many of us were never taught how to properly use apostrophes. Now is the time to fix that. It might not register to you, when you mis-use apostrophes, but it absolutely registers to large swaths of your readers. You want to make sure they love you for your content - not that they abandon you for something which is so easy to fix.

So let's start.

Possessions
An apostrophe is used when a person owns something.

Lisa's parakeet
Bob's cat
The lady's scarf
Mr. Mozart's piano

There can be confusion involving names ending in the letter S. It is always wisest to use an apostrophe for those names as well. The purpose of punctuation is to add clarity. Using an apostrophe for possession is adding meaning to a sentence. So you do want to say:

James's new computer
Miss Ross's pet tarantula

The sole exception here - for historical reasons - is with Jesus and Moses. If you are writing about these men you say Jesus' and Moses' without a following S.

Possessions - Plural
When multiple people own something, you still need an apostrophe. However, the plural form moves the apostrophe to after the S which is denoting the plural. So - again only if there are multiple people involved - you would say:

The girls' watches
The fifteen students' exams
The Smiths' family vacation

Contractions
The ONLY time you should ever use an apostrophe in a contraction is if you could also properly say the phrase with two separate words in place of the one contracted word. This is an easy test to apply. So you should be able to do:

I shouldn't go to that party -> I should not go to that party
I couldn't make the dinner in time -> I could not make the dinner in time
She isn't a messy eater -> She is not a messy eater
It's a lovely day out -> It is a lovely day out

This last case should take SPECIAL NOTE because this relates to an error many new writers make, and it is one that they absolutely need to fix quickly. The ONLY time that you should ever use "it's" is if you could say "it is" in the exact same spot. The possessive words

his hers its

never use apostrophes. So only ever use an apostrophe if it is connecting two distinct words together.

So those are the only times you use apostrophes.

You do NOT use apostrophes for plurals, ever. So whether you are talking about the

Roaring 40s

or the

paisley-filled 1970s

There are no apostrophes there. You are showing a plural of the years.

Let me know if you have any questions!

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