• Would you like an apostrophe with that, ma’am?

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    Would you like an apostrophe with that, ma’am?

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    Would you like an apostrophe with that, ma’am?

    Posted By Alastair Otter

    Welcome to the brave new world of online media. A world where anyone with an Internet connection can be a journalist and bloggers are the new media rock stars. A world where readers can immediately deliver their own opinions, and usually do.

    It’s also a world where basic grammar skills are apparently no longer needed.

    I’m not particularly fascist when it comes to grammar but I do have some minimum standards. One of those is that I like writers to use apostrophes correctly. It’s a simple thing to get right and yet daily I see blog posts, Twitter messages, news articles and even advertisements with so many randomly used apostrophes that it feels that when the writer does get it right it is probably more by accident than by design.

    I know Twitter is not populated only by professional media and that many blogs are never intended to be literary gems but would it really hurt to use apostrophes correctly?

    Often it’s the so-called social media gurus, the ones that are trying to sell their Web 2.0 consulting skills, that most often get it wrong. Do I really want a consultant who can’t get a few apostrophes right to tell me how to run my web/social media/whatever strategy? Not likely.

    Admittedly, using apostrophes correctly doesn’t gain you much. You’re unlikely to be inundated with fan mail for using them properly. On the other hand, using them incorrectly raises questions about your skills, your ability to communicate, your attention to detail. In many cases you could be written off as an amateur even before the reader reaches the second paragraph.

    Using apostrophes correctly is not hard. A few simple rules can make all the difference to your writing. Get it right and you can be judged on the quality of your work. Get it wrong and you risk being ignored.

    A few simple rules

    The apostrophe is only used in two instances: to show ownership (Bob’s ball) and to indicate missing letters or contractions (it’s late). The apostrophe is not used to indicate a plural (dogs, cats, cars).


    An apostrophe is used to join two words together and indicate missing letters.

    I’m (means I am)
    it’s (it is)
    they’re (they are)
    aren’t (are not)
    don’t (do not)
    we’re (we are)

    it’s vs its

    The difficult one here is it’s and its. It’s is the one most people get wrong. It’s means “it is”. Its is possessive:

    It’s the first release of the software. (It is the first release of the software)
    The company has released its financial results. (They are the company’s results)


    An apostrophe is also used to indicate ownership:

    Mark’s private jet (the jet belonging to Mark)
    IBM’s servers
    The computer is John’s
    The boys’ books (the books belonging to the boys)
    The Smiths’ house (the house belonging to the Smiths)

    Do not use apostrophes to create a plural

    Very often writers see a word ending in an ‘s’ and, in a moment of panic, slap in an apostrophe. It’s simple, plurals do not need an apostrophe:

    There are many CDs on the shelf (not CD’s) This is the one I see most often.
    The computers have been delivered (not computer’s)
    The boys play soccer (not boy’s)
    The ISPs are involved in a price war (not ISP’s)

    Naturally, being English, there are some cases where things are not so clear but in 99 percent of cases these rules apply.

    So, there you have it: A (hopefully) simple guide to using apostrophes correctly. And I can now move on knowing I have played my small part in ridding the world of apostrophe abuse.

    Written by Alastair Otter

    Data visualisation & design, journalist, hacker.


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