A guide to using the humble apostrophe.​

I was going to write a post about how to use apostrophes, because I know for an absolute indisputable fact that quite a lot of people struggle with apostrophes and where to put them, especially when it comes to possession (by which I mean things like “the girl’s bags” vs “the girls’ bags”).

Then I thought that what would happen is that I would be labelled “The Grammar Police” or, worse, have people silently think of me as an arrogant, condescending, patronising “I think you’ll find that it’s THIS not THAT” type.

So I asked people if they would like me to post on the apostrophe, and almost all of them said yes. But I would just like to clear something up:  I don’t think that struggling with apostrophes, or any kind of grammar, means that you are unintelligent. I don’t think any less of anybody who struggles with anything. We all struggle with many things.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Apostrophes to indicate plurals.

You don’t generally need them. You can use them to indicate plurals if it makes it easier for the reader. For example:

– “There are two i’s in sillier”
– “The do’s and don’ts of programming” is easier to read than “The dos and don’ts of programming”.

Basic guideline: You do not need one unless the plural can be misread without it.

Apostrophes to indicate possession.

The apostrophe goes after the possessor (the person or people who own the thing being spoken about). For example:

– “The Browns’ lovely house” (The house where Paddington Bear and the Brown family live)
– “The girl’s bags” (the various different bags belonging to a girl who is particularly fond of bags)
– “The girls’ bags” (the bags belonging to two or more girls. Who may just have one bag each)

This also applies when you are writing about something that isn’t actually owned by the possessor. This sounds complicated but really isn’t. For example:

– “The Browns’ housewarming party” (where you can meet their talking bear)
– “The boys’ entrance to the school” (not the girls’ entrance)
– “The doctors’ car park”

It’s with an apostrophe or its without?

“It’s” is a shortened version of “it is” or “it has”. If neither of those phrases can be used instead, then the word you are looking for is “its”. For example:

– “It’s now time to talk about Google and its plans for world domination.”
– “Apple? It’s a simple fact that the iPod is its greatest invention”

“Whose” or “who’s”?

If you can replace the phrase with “who is” or “who has”, then it’s “who’s.” Otherwise it’s whose. For example:

– “Who’s that you’re talking about?” “Harry, whose post-One Direction career has been a bit more successful than Zayn’s.”

“There’s” or “theirs”?

If you can replace the phrase with “there is” or “there has” then it’s “there’s.” Otherwise it’s “Theirs”. For example:

– “Whose are those two bags over there?” “Those girls have just left, I think the bags are theirs.”

And, as this post has been well long enough already, that’s where I’m leaving it.

There are various other uses for the apostrophe, and people will disagree with each other until the cows come home. Some prefer “Do’s and Don’t’s” and some “Dos and Don’ts”, while you can get into a right mess with the possessive when names end in ‘s’ (Is it “Helen Jones’ book” or “Helen Jones’s book”?) but the most important thing to remember in such cases is that there is no hard and fast rule, other than be consistent.

I hope this has been of help. I am planning to post further on grammar issues in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, please do connect with me and read my posts on LinkedIn , where this whole “to discuss the apostrophe or not to discuss the apostrophe” debate started.

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