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  • Stan:

    Once you absorb a new house style
    (Though that may take a little while),
    You’re sure to function with great ease
    When dealing with apostrophes.

  • Nice work, Marc!

    I see Swift used plural “idea’s”,
    Which many would find beastly,
    Yet it’s shared without prejudice
    In the great grammar of Priestley.

  • More troublesome to me than the questionable use of apostrophes in public places is the use of “hooked harbingers of doubt” – quotation marks – to express emphasis. These are often used by merchants (“Fresh” Fish,” “Cold” Sandwiches,” etc. My favorite was a handwritten sign in a storefront in Portchester, NY many years ago – “Truck” for sale. Well, was it really a truck, or were they just calling it a truck? Is the fish truly fresh or are they just saying it’s fresh?

  • Kristen: The use of quotation marks for emphasis (and other non-standard functions) is something I’ve looked at on my own blog – but it might be worth revisiting here, so watch this space. Like you, I find that these marks can have the opposite effect to what was intended: “homemade” stew or “real” cream cheese, anyone? They shouldn’t cast doubt, but they do.

  • When did we become so lazy as a society that to install an apostrophe has become an effort. The apostrophe in a word can change the meaning entirely and maintains the flow of meaning, especially when reading, without having to make note of an implication. There was an article a week or so ago about the elimination of the comma, which I don’t see happening; or we’ll wind up at the mercy of run-on sentences.

  • Though by no means everybody knows that lets in “Ile make a ghost of him that lets me” means ‘hinders’ rather than ‘prevents’. Hamlet is telling his friends not to hold him back, or he’ll kill them.

  • Mary Ann: I don’t think it’s about society being too lazy to add apostrophes. In certain cases it may be, but in others they’re added, which indicates something else. Uncertainty and variation have always dogged the mark; this scholarly history (PDF) of the apostrophe might interest you. Genuine ambiguity over its misuse is possible, for example with plural possessives, but it seldom happens in practice. Reading G.B. Shaw I don’t find the flow of meaning significantly hindered despite the scarcity of apostrophes.

    John: I just revisited the etymology and see that that use of let literally means ‘make late’; the tie with late goes way back.

  • I learned the uses of the apostrophe as part of the rules of English Grammar, i.e. possession, plural possession the apostrophe ends the word, contractions (you are, you’re–it is, it’s). These words have “counterparts” as part of possessive pronouns “your & its” which might confuse some, otherwise, how difficult is this?
    Parenthetically, time reference, “o’clock” is a contraction “of the clock”.

  • Mary Ann: Difficult enough for many people, evidently. Not everyone received the same level of education, and for other speakers English is not a first language. But even educated L1 speakers of English find some aspects of apostrophe use tricky, and always have. Unfortunately, the prevalence of erroneous forms such as it’s for its encourages their spread.

  • three men called James live in one house. If I tell you that I am visiting them, how would you address my plural possessive here:
    ” Going to the James house.”
    – James’?
    – Jamess’?
    – James’s’?

  • Hi Joseph. I think your scenario is a bit unlikely, but I would think that if you are going to see three people called James then you are going to see the Jameses (as you would Johns or Janes or Jonases) so the correct way to write it would be ‘Going to the Jameses’ house’ (a plural marker followed by a possessive marker). Others may disagree though.

  • Joseph: I agree with Liz. I’d write it as the Jameses’ house, meaning the house of the Jameses. Or you could omit the apostrophe: the Jameses house, with Jameses functioning as an attributive modifier rather than a possessive. But I prefer the version with the apostrophe.