Make Your Editor Cry: Apostrophes
Apostrophe is a big word for a little jot. These little jots can turn the most fearless writer’s hair white with fear, but they’re not that bad once you get to know them.
They have a couple of different uses: for contractions, and to show possession.
These are the easier ones that most of us know pretty well. If you’re reducing a few words to a single word–like we are–you can just say we’re. Easy.
More commonly, people get confused between you’re and your and they’re, their and there, its and it’s, etc. Make sure you know the difference between these:
You’re = you are: You’re a wonderful person.
Your = something that belongs to someone: I want to hold your hand.
They’re = they are: They’re wonderful people.
Their = something that belongs to them: I want to meet their friends.
There = refers to a place: I dream about walking on the Moon but I don’t think I’ll ever get there.
Its = belongs to it, It possessive. Red is its color.
It's = contraction for it is. It is red.
We can also contract years with apostrophes. For the 1908s it’s always the ‘80s–not the 80’s with a misplaced apostrophe or the 80s with a missing apostrophe.
The same goes for the age of people. You don’t need an apostrophe to say a woman is in her 20s though you should honestly spell it out anyway to say a woman is in her twenties.
These are the ones that get people confused.
Possessive apostrophes come in two types: singular and plural, but they both do the same thing; they tell the reader who or what owns the object.
This is Natasha’s donut.
We know this singular donut is owned by Natasha. Good for Natasha. (What’s that? Doughnut? let’s just say it’s point of debate. https://time.com/2837756/donut-or-doughnut/ #TeamDonut)
The shop’s window displays featured my book.
So, the plural window displays belong to the singular shop. Good for the shop and they have good taste to highlight your book.
In these examples, the apostrophe always goes before the S. That’s because there’s only one singular Natasha and only one singular shop.
The confusion comes when there is more than one owner.
If there are two or more shops (plural), then the apostrophe goes after the “-s.”
Both shops’ window displays featured my book.
These rules work on time periods too.
I’ll still be working on my grammar in one year’s time. But you’ll be a grammar guru in two years’ time.
Notice the apostrophe moves to after the “-s” when you’re talking about more than one year.
Sometimes the noun is automatically plural. Women for example already talks about more than one woman. The possessive apostrophe always goes before the “-s” with this type of plural word.
Women’s shoes, children’s books, mice’s food.
The one exception is the pronoun it. There is no plural form of it. The only time we use an apostrophe with the pronoun it is for contractions as mentioned earlier in this article.
It is a bad day. It has been a bad day. It’s a bad day. It’s been a bad day.
If we want to say this thing belongs to it, we simply write this is its thing. No apostrophe.
I found the tag that belonged to it. It was its tag.
Sadly, a lot of times I see this: its’. This kind of makes my head hurt. Without going to the deep end, that is not a thing, or a word. It isn’t even possible.
Initialisms (or Acronyms)
My last point on misused apostrophes is with plurals of acronyms or initialisms. For example, when looking for bargain movies, I regularly see signs advertising “Cheap DVD’s.”
This is wrong. “Cheap DVDs” indicating more than one DVD and with no apostrophe is correct… unless they mean a cheap DVD’s case, or label, or quality–or whether the cheap DVD’s any good–and thus a bargain. In those forms, the case, label or quality would belong to the DVD, or if the DVD was any good, then you could say the DVD’s good as in the DVD is good.
Gregg Bridgeman is the Editor-in-Chief at Olivia Kimbrell Press. He is husband to best-selling Christian author Hallee Bridgeman and parent to three. He continues to proudly serve in the US Armed Forces and has done so in either an active or reserve capacity for more than twenty years as an airborne and air assault qualified paratrooper, earning a Bronze Star for his service. Most importantly, he was ordained in October of 2001 after surrendering his life to Christ decades earlier.