In late November, the caped crusader of apostrophes decided to hang up his boots. Since 2001, John Richards, a retired journalist from England, had chaired The Apostrophe Protection Society, a website dedicated to collecting examples of misused apostrophes from across the globe.
But educating the masses about apostrophe usage proved hard work. And Mr. Richards, now in his 90s, needed a break.
In his farewell, he noted, “Ignorance and laziness have won!”
To that we say, “Not on our watch!”
We’re here to pick up where Mr. Richards left off, and you, dear reader, can join us by staying vigilant about apostrophe uses (and abuses).
Know the Basics
Apostrophes serve two main purposes: 1) to indicate possession or ownership and 2) to indicate omitted numbers or words. Follow these basic uses in your own writing and visit your Write for Business Guide to learn other, trickier uses.
To Form Singular Possessives
Use an apostrophe + s to show ownership of most singular nouns.
Brent’s cover letter
The Bank of Madison’s new office space
When a singular noun of more than one syllable ends with an s or z sound, you can form the possessive by adding just an apostrophe. But if the word is one syllable, you should use both the apostrophe and s.
Dallas’ (or Dallas’s) skyline is impressive.
Ms. Jones’s work on Mr. Ross’s portfolio is nearly complete.
For singular nouns ending in s, the choice between an apostrophe and an apostrophe + s is stylistic. Since no hard-and-fast rule governs the usage, strive for consistency.
To Form Plural Possessives
Use an apostrophe (with no additional s) to show possession with plural nouns ending in s or es.
The Smiths’ family business
The dogs’ leashes
Remember, the word immediately preceding the apostrophe is the “owner.”
In Place of Numbers or Letters
Use an apostrophe to show that one or more numerals or letters have been left out of numbers or words (like contractions).
Class of ’19 (20 is left out)
They’ll (wi is left out)
I’m (a is left out)
Beware of Common Abuses
The humble apostrophe is among the most commonly misused punctuation marks. Watch out for these abuses.
Apostrophes Used as Plurals
✘ Your report’s are due on Friday.
✔ Your reports are due on Friday.
✘ The stock’s in my portfolio rebounded last quarter.
✔ The stocks in my portfolio rebounded last quarter.
Apostrophes with Company Names Ending in S
✘ What is General Mills current S&P ranking?
✘ What is General Mill's current S&P ranking?
✔ What is General Mills' (or Mills's) current S&P ranking?
Creating Possessive Adjectives
✘ Please turn in your sale's report.
✔ Please turn in your sales report.
Mixing Up Your and You're
✘ Your late again for the meeting.
✔ You're late again for the meeting.
Mixing Up Its and It's
✘ The foundation is hosting it’s annual fund-raiser.
✔ The foundation is hosting its annual fund-raiser.