The apostrophe – dos and don’ts

Ah, the apostrophe. That much maligned, much misunderstood, much misused little punctuation mark. Without it, there can be no possession because we wouldn’t be able to attribute ownership to anybody.

Spot the problem here? It should be the park of the people, not the park of the peoples!

And think of all those extra letters we’d have to type if we couldn’t substitute them with that little free-floating comma?

No, the apostrophe is not to be taken for granted. Nor is it something to be frightened of. Simply follow these simple dos and don’ts and you won’t go wrong.

DO use the apostrophe when…

  • …indicating possession. Example: Paul’s ball, Mary’s piano, Dad’s moustache, etc.
  • …using abbreviated words, such as don’t instead of do not; can’t instead of can not; wouldn’t instead of would not; he’s instead of he is.
  • …leaving out part of a word. Eg. ’48 instead of 1948 or ‘n’ instead of and.

DON’T use the apostrophe when…

  • …writing about more than one item (plural). So, the plural of banana is bananas, NEVER banana’s.
  • …using pronouns, such as his, hers, theirs etc. Example: The bananas are hers.
  • …writing the plural of abbreviations. Although technically there’s no hard and fast rule about this, I think it’s fine to write STDs rather than STD’s; don’t instead of don’t’s; 1940s instead of 1940’s.

And one last thing…

Lots of people get confused about using the apostrophe with plurals. When the plural of a word ends with the letter s, such as bananas, then generally the apostrophe will go at the end. Otherwise the rules outlined above still apply.

So, if a group of monkeys take possession of a bunch of bananas, they become the monkeys’ bananas.

However, if a group of people take the bananas, they are the people’s bananas.

Let the abuse of the apostrophe stop here!


One thought on “The apostrophe – dos and don’ts

  1. Classic stuff, essential. I can’t help but judge a misplaced apostrophe.

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