Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

The English language is absolutely mucked up about this, so if you’re constantly getting apostrophes wrong, don’t feel bad. Our rule set here is silly, and we use the same character for too many things.

First, an apostrophe is never used to make something plural.

Let’s go get some baseball’s!

That’s wrong. Always. English pluralizes by adding an s or an es, in most cases, and never with an apostrophe. Even with some weird plural like hippopotami, you don’t add an apostrophe.

You use an apostrophe to indicate one of two things:

Possession

Meaning, something belongs to someone. It’s ‘s if the someone doesn’t already end in an s, or just  if it does.

It’s the Smith’s house.

It’s the Jones’ house.

Jones’s would be incorrect in that second case. It’s just Jones’ because Jones already ends in an s, and there’s, like, a shortage.

Contractions

An apostrophe can also stand in for one or more missing letters in a contraction, like don’t or couldn’t or it’s. However, note here that it’s is a contraction of it is, so the apostrophe is correct. You do not use an apostrophe to indicate possession by a non-entity.

The machine blew it’s gasket.

Machines are not entities like a person or a company, and so they don’t deserve apostrophes. This is correct:

The machine blew its gasket.

That’s a hugely dumb and confusing point, but I just enforce the rules, kids. But you can have fun with it:

It’s blow its gasket.

Meaning It has (correct use of apostrophe) blown its (possession by non-entity) gasket.

Categories: Rant

5 thoughts on “Grammar Police: Apostrophes

  1. martylichtel says:

    Apt timing. Just today I was at an event where a presentation slide gave instructions for accessing the “bio’s and profile’s” of the speakers.

  2. Jim Topp says:

    I disagree with this: “You do not use an apostrophe to indicate possession by a non-entity.” I think the correct explanation is, “You do not use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns. “its”, “hers”, “ours”, and “yours” are correct; “it’s”, “her’s”, “our’s”, and “your’s” are not. (http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000023.htm, http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000134.htm)

  3. JOHN J RUSSELL says:

    It’s blow its gasket. Technically shouldn’t that be blown? Just askin’.

  4. jimtopp says:

    I disagree with this: “You do not use an apostrophe to indicate possession by a non-entity.” I think the correct explanation is, “You do not use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns. “its”, “hers”, “ours”, and “yours” are correct; “it’s”, “her’s”, “our’s”, and “your’s” are not. (http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000023.htm, http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000134.htm)

  5. Nearly all rules in English have exceptions. You make the triple assertion that apostrophes are “never used to make something plural,” always wrong, and to add an s “never with an apostrophe,” but it is sometimes necessary and correct to use an apostrophe to make something plural. Some of the cases are style guide dependent.

    One particular case that seems to be widely accepted is when making a lowercase letter plural. For example: “Mind your p’s and q’s!” and “Don’t forget to add lowercase s’s to those nouns to make them plural.” This last sentence could easily be re-written to avoid the plural lowercase letter, but if it’s a quotation, we’d have to use an apostrophe to write it. Some style guides require an apostrophe to make plural any abbreviation with periods or mixed case, and some short words and uppercase letters are hard to read as plurals. Examples: “Ph.D.s, wes, tos, Is, and Us” are commonly written as “Ph.D.’s, we’s, to’s, I’s, and U’s” for readability, and they are not wrong according to Chicago Manual of Style.

    Your point is well taken that apostrophes are often used incorrectly to make words plural, and this is almost always wrong; however, you can rarely say never or always for a rule in the English language. On a side note, you have a typo in your example, “It’s blow its gasket.” — it’s missing the n at the end of blow to make it blown.

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