John Richards, who is 96 and founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, is now terminating the Society. He is quoted as saying, “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language”. So I thought a brief run- down on the rules would be a good idea. We should be on top of our language.
It’s vs. Its
“it’s”: should be used as a contraction of “it is”, while its is only used to show possession.
– It’s (it is) your responsibility to be a grammar queen.
– If you can say “it is” in its place, then you DO need the apostrophe. If its is showing something has possession or ownership of something, then you do NOT need an apostrophe.
– The dog was chewing its bone. (possessive because the bone is in the possession of the dog.)
Who’s vs. Whose
. Who’s (who is) going to love me if I can’t get my apostrophes right?
- Whose apostrophe is this?
If you can use “who is” instead of who’s in the sentence the apostrophe stays. If there’s an E on the end of “whose” do NOT use an apostrophe.
Your vs. you’re
Just in case we didn’t drive the contraction thing home yet, let’s look at one more common error that makes every editor, professor, and book aficionado cringe.
- Your apostrophe usage is spectacular.
- You’re (you are) not demonstrating a spectacular handle on comma usage.
If you can say “you are” in its place, then keep the apostrophe hanging. If it is showing possession (your dog, your usage), you do NOT want to use an apostrophe.
There vs. Their vs. They’re
Remembering that apostrophes mainly like to hang out with contractions, there’s only one time an apostrophe enters into the ”there, their, they’re” family of homophones:
- There is an apostrophe in the contraction “they’re.”
- They’re (they are) not playing well with apostrophes.
- Their apostrophe usage is not their strongest point.
If you’re talking about something in a certain place (there) or something that belongs to people (their) you do NOT need to use an apostrophe.
1930s vs. 1930’s vs. ’30s
Is it a contraction? Is it indicating something missing? Is it showing possession?
- You could say that 1930’s music and dance scene set the stage for many great composers. (Possession)
- The ’30s were great years for jazz and swing music. (Omission)
- The 1930s were a great time for music and dance. (Plural)
In this case, the only time you would NOT use an apostrophe is when the date is plural.
Store signs have been notorious over the years for grammar errors. What’s wrong with these signs?
Bob’s Cheesesteak’s and Cubano’s
Smith’s Greengrocer’s: The Best in Town
If it’s a contraction or a possession, only then are apostrophes on the guest list. So, the signs above should read:
Bob’s Cheesesteaks and Cubanos
Smith’s Greengrocers: The Best in Town
If, however, a plural noun needs to show possession, then it’s time for the apostrophe to Be included. An apostrophe showing the possessive on a plural needs to go after the S that is making the word plural. So it would be acceptable to say:
Bob’s secret is in his cheesesteaks’ sauce.
Or, it could reference a singular cheesesteak and say:
Bob’s secret is in his cheesesteak’s sauce.
The point is: no possession, no apostrophe.
So, there are only two occasions when you have to use apostrophes: contractions and noun possessions.