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English Lesson 6: Correct Use of Apostrophes

April 19th, 2008

apostrophe-mistake.jpgIncorrect use of apostrophes has become a disturbingly prevalent phenomenon in recent years, especially in the realm of advertising. Apostrophe abuse and “rogue apostrophes” seem to be popping up all over the place, occurring most commonly in the plural forms of ordinary words. In this week’s lesson, we will learn when and how apostrophes are actually supposed to be used so that we can avoid using them incorrectly.

In English, there are three primary uses of apostrophes:

  • In colloquial speech, informal writing, and some foreign languages, apostrophes are used in contractions to indicate one or more omitted letters. In extreme cases, they can even be used more than once in same word, such as in the modern pronunciation of the word forecastle. Occasionally, contractions are also used with numerical figures, most commonly in dates where all digits of a certain year except for the last two are replaced with an apostrophe.
    1. Although blogging can be profitable in the long run, you’re probably not going to make millions overnight.
    2. The Libertarian party is one of the few organizations remaining in America that actually believes in the spirit of ‘76.
    3. After the grappling hooks were in place, the pirates swarmed over the fo’c’sle of the merchant ship and eventually captured it.
  • Apostrophes are used to indicate possession. If the entity doing the possessing is singular, an apostrophe is added before the letter s. If the possessor is plural, the apostrophe is placed after the s, except in cases where the plural form does not normally end in s. In these situations, simply add the apostrophe before the s to show possession.
    1. The quality and quantity of a blog’s content can determine the degree of success in terms of subscriber numbers and search engine traffic.
    2. Before deciding on which company should receive the majority of our investment, we looked closely at the two companies’ financial reports.
    3. The early women’s movement, sometimes referred to as “first wave” feminism, was instrumental in obtaining the right of suffrage through the 19th amendment.
  • In cases where the plural of a single lowercase letter needs to be written, apostrophes are used because their omission would cause the expression to appear awkward and confusing (for example, the plural of “a” would be written as “a’s”, not “as”, which is a completely different word). Apostrophes are not used in the plural forms of acronyms.
    1. When preparing a document for legal purposes, it is always a good idea to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Here are some examples of commonly used incorrect usage, followed by the corrected forms.

Incorrect: The number and importance of a websites inbound links will greatly affect its ability to rank well in the search engines.

Correct: The number and importance of a website’s inbound links will greatly affect its ability to rank well in the search engines.

Incorrect: Most banks do not charge fee’s for using their own ATMs.

Correct: Most banks do not charge fees for using their own ATMs.

Incorrect: A common suggestion for practicing politeness is “mind your ps and qs.”

Correct: A common suggestion for practicing politeness is “mind your p’s and q’s.”

Incorrect: I dont think that the quantity of traffic a website receives impacts its search engine ranking.

Correct: I don’t think that the quantity of traffic a website receives impacts its search engine ranking.

For next week, we have had one suggestion to cover usage of lie vs. lay, although there are plenty of other issues that we could also address such as “could of” vs. “could have”, peak vs. pique, and past vs. passed. If you have any other favorite pet peeves regarding English grammar, be sure to mention these in the comment section and I will try to cover them in the approximate order that they are posted.


7 Responses to “English Lesson 6: Correct Use of Apostrophes”

  1. comment number 1 by: Janna

    Very good advice. It has always been one of my pet peeves to see apostrophes misused.
    I especially hate it when people try to make nouns plural simply by adding an apostrophe and an “S” at the end.

  2. comment number 2 by: mikey777

    Thank you so much for posting on this subject. People putting apostrophes in the wrong places drive me nuts, especially when it’s prevalent throughout the entire post. I feel like I’m reading a blog written by a second grader. I’ve seen businesses do it too. I really think correct punctuation and grammar are essential if you want to be taken seriously.

  3. comment number 3 by: Mamaflo

    I actually learned something, thank you.
    Now I’d love to learn more about quotation marks

  4. comment number 4 by: Polina

    Thank you very much for this article. English is not my native language, actually, it’s my third language and there are cases when I doubt if what i say is grammatically correct. While your #1, #2 points are familiar to me, #3 is something absolutely new, and it is always interesting to find out some new things to improve your language skills. Would be just great if you post anything about using commas in complicated sentences as well,
    thanks in advance!

  5. comment number 5 by: Rita Haugh

    I’m still confused about whether to use an apostrophe in a name like St. Mary’s School — or St. Marys School ???? Is one correct and the other incorrect, or is either acceptable?

  6. comment number 6 by: Karlonia

    @Rita Haugh:

    Without access to any additional information, I would write it as “St. Mary’s School” (with the apostrophe). However, note that this is a proper noun, so in order to be absolutely certain about this, you should consult an official publication from this particular organization (such as a newsletter or website) to verify the proper spelling. It is theoretically possible for a business or other organization to misspell a common word and claim it as a unique brand name.

  7. comment number 7 by: pat

    Is it correct to put an apostrophe after the s as in I AM A WOMAN OF 38 YEARS’

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