Apostrophe rules: your guide to the humble ‘

Laura-Tuck-Tide-Studio-Copywriting-apostrophe-rules-posessive-plural-tips-blog

30 JULY, 2019

Apostrophe rules: your guide to the humble ‘

 

 

 

We all have pet peeves, right? Queue cutters. People who are rude to wait staff. Dog walkers who ignore their pup’s giant turd on the beach (ugh, honestly).

But nothing grinds my gears like the misuse of an apostrophe. Fellow writers and word nerds, you feel me?!

The English language is a complicated beast. When it comes to writing epic content, there are lots of rules that can (and should) be broken… but sorry friend, apostrophe rules aren’t one of them. Apostrophes can be tricky, but we should all try to make friends with them because when they’re not used correctly they can disrupt your sentence and confuse your reader, in turn making you sound like a bit of a dummy. And no one likes to sound like a dummy.

If you don’t know your contractions from your possessives, never fear - I’ve done the hard work for you. Below you’ll find a summary of the apostrophes out there causing chaos, some guidelines for when and how to use them and also a hit-list of apostrophe traps to look out for (you know, the ones people get wrong ALL. THE. TIME.).

CONTRACTIONS

Let’s start with an easy one. See, I just used a contraction – let’s rather than ‘let us.’ I’m not a robot, so why talk like one?

Contractions use apostrophes to represent missing letters. Think they’re, I’ve, can’t, shouldn’t, isn’t.

We speak in contractions, so it makes sense to write using contractions, and yet this is something lots of brands struggle with. Let’s make something clear – you can write in a conversational tone and still be professional. Contractions are a simple and effective way of injecting personality into your copy (learn more about writing conversational copy here), but make sure you’re consistent. There’s nothing worse than a would not followed by a wouldn’t in the same sentence…

…just me? Ok moving on.

Apostrophe traps to watch out for:

·       It’s vs its: It’s is the contraction of it is, while its is possessive (meaning you’re talking about one thing that belongs to another – like the dog wagged its tail)

·       They’re, their, there: Apostrophes love contractions, so you only need an apostrophe for they’re which is the contraction of they are. If you don’t know the difference between the other two, it might be worth making friends with a professional copywriter ;)

·       You’re vs your: If you always get these two mixed up you should join the Facebook messenger group I have with my girlfriends…those lucky gals get corrected on the regs, free of charge! Remember, you’re is the contraction of you are (for example you’re amazing) while your is the possessive case of you (for example it’s your birthday!).

·       Who’s vs whose: Again, who’s is a contraction, so it means who is or who has. Whose, on the other hand, is a possessive pronoun – so use it to ask or tell whom something belongs to (for example whose turn is it?). Which brings us nicely to possessives…

 

POSSESSIVES

Pop a little ‘s after a word to show one thing belongs to another – for example Rosie’s car,  Fred’s burger or Sam’s house. The ‘s indicates the thing being talked about belongs to Rosie, Fred or Sam.

Apostrophe traps to watch out for:

·       Business’ vs businesses: If you’re saying something belongs to the business, it’s business’ (possessive). Whereas if you’re referring to more than one business, it’s businesses (plural). 

·       Days of the week: Keep the apostrophe in Monday’s to-do list (because it’s possessive, the list belongs to Monday) but I love Mondays doesn’t need the apostrophe (because you’re talking about the plural form of Monday).

PLURALS

Still with me? Choice.

Plurals are often the source of grammatical errors (and wild irritation for writers!). I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve walked past a shop, branded car or sign with an apostrophe in the wrong place. I’m begging you - don’t let your business be one of them! Seriously. I’ll hunt you down.

Take Billy’s Pizza’s, for example. Billy’s is correct (because the pizzas are his, so the apostrophe is a possessive) but pizza’s doesn’t need an apostrophe. Pizzas don’t possess anything (except a piece of my heart) so the word doesn’t need an apostrophe.

Say it with me: plurals don’t need apostrophes. If you’re talking about more than one of something (whether cats, dogs, oranges, laptops, coffees or fricken cowboys) you don’t need an apostrophe.

It’s only when something belongs to the thing you’re talking about - for example, the cowboy’s boots - that it needs an apostrophe. Why, because it’s possessive. The boots belong to the cowboy (duh, every cowboy needs boots).

Apostrophe traps to watch out for:

·       Dos and don’ts (NOT do’s and don’t’s): Dos might look weird at first glance but it’s 100% correct (because we’re talking about do in plural form). The apostrophe in don’ts shows it’s a contraction (of do not), and again we’re talking plural form so there’s no need for an extra apostrophe. Ever.

·       Acronyms and dates: More than one CD? CDs. Referring to the decade when pants were flared and discos were groovy? 1970s. No apostrophe!

If your still with me now (and if you noticed your was meant to me you’re), well done, friend. Well done.

Navigating your way through the English language can be tough, which is where external editing and proofreading comes in handy.

The good news is there are experts out there (hi!) who looooove to scan your stuff for typos and give you back stronger, more engaging and error-free content that allows you to put your best foot forward. Let’s chat?

I’d also love to know what language-based pet peeve drives you to an ‘it’s 5pm somewhere’ bottle of vino? Drop a comment below!

Laura TuckComment