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How to Use Apostrophes: The Naughty Grammarian Explains

Catherine Giordano, aka "The Naughty Grammarian," has had her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry published in books and periodicals.

The Apostrophe

The apostrophe is a whale of a topic.

The apostrophe is a whale of a topic.

It’s Simple.

Miss Grammers wants you to know that the usage of apostrophes is really quite simple as long as you pay attention. Most of the errors with apostrophes don’t occur because of ignorance. They occur because of carelessness.

Here is a simple way to get it right. Use the “Find” function in Micorsoft Word. Do a search for the apostrophe character. Now look at each usage of the apostrophe. Check to see if it has been used correctly.

Miss Grammars will list the rules for apostrophes below to aid you in this task

It's simple.

The rules are simple for apostrophe's used to indicate possession and contractions.

The rules are simple for apostrophe's used to indicate possession and contractions.

The Apostrophe is Used to Indicate Possession.

Miss Grammers assumes that everyone knows that the primary use of the apostrophe is to indicate possession. In the sentence below, Melanie possesses a plan.

Melanie’s plan was a simple one.

Miss Grammers further assumes that she can now move on to some of the more difficult parts of the lesson on the apostrophe.

The Apostrophe is Used to Indicate Omitted Letters.

Again Miss Grammers assumes that everyone knows that the apostrophe is used to indicate omission of certain letters, such as in contractions. Consequently, she will give only a few brief examples.

This plan won’t work. (will not)

It’s a simplistic plan. (It is)

“I’ll show ’em," Melanie, said. (I will, them)

I’m a child of the ‘60s. (See: The Naughty Grammarian: To Spell or Not To Spell Numbers)

It's Confusing

The Case of “Its” and “It’s.”

“Its” is the possessive pronoun. “It’s" is the contraction of the words “It is.”

Do a search for these two words, one at a time, using the “Find” function in Microsoft WORD.

When you find “its” try substituting the words “It is.” If the sentence no longer makes sense, you have probably used “its” correctly.

Now search for “it’s” and again try substituting “it is.” If the sentence does make sense, you have used “it’s” correctly.

What Happens When a Word Ends with “S”?

It gets a little tricky when the word already ends in an “s” or a double “s.” It all depends on whether you follow the AP Style or the Chicago style.

The AP style says to add an apostrophe. Newspapers and periodicals follow the AP style.

Melanie discovered Mavis’ love letters.

The Chicago style says to an apostrophe and an “s.” Book publishers follow Chicago style.

Melanie discovered Mavis’s love letters.

Sometimes a simple apostrophe is used with common nouns and an apostrophe with an “s” is used for proper nouns.

The letters’ envelopes were unsealed.

Melanie discovered Mavis’s letters.

Another rule is to spell the word the way it is pronounced. According to this rule, we add an “s” to Mavis, but do not add the “s” to letters. We would also add the “s” to words that end with an “s” sound.

Berlitz’s language tapes made learning French easy.

As is so often the case, the answer is consistency. Pick a style and be consistent throughout the piece.

Miss Grammers had decided she will spell it the way it sounds. It is so much simpler that way, don’t you think? Miss Grammers, however, will not mind if you choose another style.

It's Tricky

Sometimes understand apostrophes gets quite tricky.

Sometimes understand apostrophes gets quite tricky.

Plural Names Can Be Tricky.

Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind to ensure you don’t inadvertently make a mistake with an apostrophe with names.

Be careful never to make a family name plural with an apostrophe. To refer to the Smith family, we write “The Smiths”, never “The Smith’s.”

Be careful with proper names that end in “s”. For instance, if Miss Andrews has some letters, it is “Miss Andrews’ letters, and not Miss Andrew’s letters. (However, if we are speaking about a man named Andrew, it is “Andrew’s letters.”)

Suppose all the members of the Andrews family have some problems. This would be written as the “Andrewses have problems” just as we would write “The Smiths have problems.” We add “es” to a name ending in “s” to indicate that we are referring to more than one person named Andrews. How then to use the family name with an apostrophe to indicate possession? We would write, “The Andrewses’ problems are looming” (or the Andrewses’s problems are looming.”) just we would write “The Smiths’ problems are looming.“

What If Two People Possess the Same Thing?

Use the apostrophe after the second name if you want to indicate that both own the same item together.

There were many fraternities at Doug and Brad’s college.

If one of the owners is indicated with possessive pronoun, use the possessive form for both.

Doug went to a lot of parties because his and Brad’s college had many fraternities.

If the same thing belongs to more than one person, but it is not jointly owned, use the apostrophe with both names.

Brad’s and Doug’s fraternities were rivals.

The same rules would apply if three were three or more people listed as owners.

An Apostrophe Can Be Used to Form a Plural with Initials or Letters.

Apostrophes are often used when the noun is not a word, but is instead just letters.

PhD’s are required for many occupations.

Straight A’s are helpful.

Mind your P’s and Q’s.

Or the “s” can be added without an apostrophe. Again, it is a matter of choosing a style and sticking to it.

PhDs are required for many occupations.

Straight As are helpful.

Mind your Ps and Qs.

However, if lowercase letters are used, an apostrophe will not be optional.

Mind your p’s and q’s.

Name a word with five e’s.

Be Careful of Proper Nouns Ending in “S” that are Used as an Adjective.

When a proper noun ends in an “s”, it can be easy to make a mistake. If you are not sure about using an apostrophe, try substituting a noun that does not end in “s” to see if it still feels like you need an apostrophe. In each of the cases below, the test shows that no apostrophe is needed.

The Christmas gift was beautiful. (Test: The Easter gift was beautiful.)

The Rolling Stones song got everyone dancing. (Test: The Johnny Cash song got everyone dancing.)

The Andrews home is lovely. (Test: The Smith home is lovely.)

Compound nouns can also be confusing. Use the apostrophe after the last word of the compound noun.

Linda’s brother-in-law’s car was delivered to his home.

If the compound noun is plural, add the “s” to the first word of the compound noun plus the apostrophe with an "s" to the last word to indicate possession. For instance, if Linda has more than one brother-in-law-brothers-in-law and each brother-in-law had a car delivered, we would write:

Linda’s brothers-in-law’s cars were delivered to their homes.

An Informative and Enjoyable Book about Punctuation.

Be Careful to Use the Apostrophe and Not the Single Quote Mark.

Make sure you use the apostrophe (’) and not the single quote mark (‘). It’s the same key on the keyboard for both, but WORD will form the apostrophe (the curve opens to the left) when you strike the key after another letter, and it will type the single quote mark (the curve opens to the right) when you use quotes. WORD will usually get it right, but in order to type ’em, I typed “them,” inserted the apostrophe before the “e”, and then deleted the “th.” (This may vary with the font you are using.)

Miss Grammers

Miss Grammers wants everyone to mind their p's and q's.

Miss Grammers wants everyone to mind their p's and q's.

Who is Miss Grammers?

Miss Grammers is a lady who is a stickler for good grammar. She wants everyone to mind there p’s and q’s where grammar is concerned. However, in matters of love, Miss Grammers has been known to throw out the rulebook.

Where did the expression p’s and q’s come from? Miss Grammers can answer that question for you.

“Mind your p’s and q’s” is a phrase that was used by printers back in the days when printing presses required a piece of metal (called type) with a letter on it to be set backwards in the press. It was easy to confuse a “p” with a “q.” It evolved to simply mean “don’t make a mistake,” and later it came to mean politeness. It may mean “mind your pleases and thank-yous.” (Thank-Q’s)

Now, Miss Grammers will offer her thank-yous for your attention to this lesson.

Just for fun

Test Your Knowledge of Apostrophes.

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which statement is grammatically correct?
    • Every rule has its exception.
    • Every rule has it's exception.
  2. Which statement is grammatically correct?
    • Doug and Brad's feelings for Melanie are simple.
    • Doug's and Brad's feelings for Melanie are simple.
  3. Which statement is gramatically correct?
    • Miss Grammers' writing is eloquent.
    • Miss Grammer's writing is eloquent.

Answer Key

  1. Every rule has its exception.
  2. Doug's and Brad's feelings for Melanie are simple.
  3. Miss Grammers' writing is eloquent.

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

Laurie on July 18, 2020:

Miss Grammar has apparently forgotten the use of "their" vs "there". She writes: "She wants everyone to remember there p's and q's where grammar is concerned."

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 06, 2014:

Thanks PsychGeek, I'm glad to be of service. It's not too late to go back and edit that hub. Even The Naughty Grammarian, has to go back and correct errors. Confession: She also has to check her own writings to refresh her memory on some of these tricky grammatical issues. Thank you for voting up.

Fiona Guy from UK on December 06, 2014:

Great article on a topic I am sure most of us could do with brushing up on. I'm thinking I should have read this before I clicked 'publish' on my last Hub hmmm....saved for future reference and voted up. Thank you for sharing!

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 05, 2014:

For some of us, that English class was 50 years ago. My rule of thumb--refresher course every 50 years. Thank you FlourishAnyway for the reminder to slow down and check our work.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 04, 2014:

Yes, apostrophe abuse. It drive's me bonkers' to see educated people making such simple mistakes. Its easy to make a mistake, but just lets' slow down and remember all the rule's we were taught in our English class'. ;-)

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 04, 2014:

Apostrophe abuse--I like that phrase, MsDora. We all make grammar mistakes some times; hence the need for a refresher course. Thank you for your comment.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 04, 2014:

This article is very helpful. I hope I'm not one of the apostrophe abusers, but I'm not above making a mistake. Thank you for the lesson!

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 04, 2014:

Citrangada, thank you or your comment. Your comment reminds me of "school days, school days, good old golden rule days."

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 04, 2014:

Thank you Iris. We all need a little grammar refresher every now and then. Writing the Naughty Grammarian serves as a refresher course for me too.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 04, 2014:

Yes, Ann I'm with you. The misuse of the apostrophe drves me right up the wall.

Cristen Iris from Boise, Idaho on December 04, 2014:

I'm a fan of AP myself. It looks cleaner. I'm glad you pointed out the style difference. These are such great refreshers.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on December 04, 2014:

What an interesting way to explain Apostrophes!

I thoroughly enjoyed going through this well presented hub! I was reminded of my school days, when I was a student and when I was teaching students.

Thanks for sharing another wonderful Grammar hub! Voted up!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 04, 2014:

Another good hub on grammar. Apostrophes are so abused! I see so many signs in shops, usually with an apostrophe for a plural; it drives me mad!


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on December 03, 2014:

Miss Grammers may be stern, but she would never whack anyone. She gives grammar lessons from the kindness of her heart. She hopes she was able to provide a little refresher course. Thanks you stopping by to comment.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 03, 2014:

Anyone who attended Catholic school when the nuns taught understand grammar. It was either understand it or get whacked with a ruler. I learned it quickly. :) Great lesson.

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