Apostrophes – Commas in the Air

Common mistakes I see when copy-editing


Many people confuse the purpose of apostrophes in their writing. So when should you use an apostrophe? 

Apostrophes have two separate uses. One is for showing ownership, as in the cat’s whiskers. The other is to show that one or more letters have been taken out (contractions).

Often, I see apostrophes in words that are meant to be plural, but not possessive.

e.g. The photo’s look great.

It should say: The photos look great.

Sometimes, people use apostrophes with pronouns.

e.g.  her’s, it’s, our’s, their’s, who’s, your’s — these are all WRONG if you’re trying to show ownership. They should be written: hers, its, ours, theirs, whose, yours.

Some of the words can be confusing.

e.g. Let’s means let us, but if you meant to say that someone allows you do do something, it should be, “She lets me go to the movies.”  

Who’s means who is, but if you meant to ask who owns something, you would say, “Whose dog it that?”

And the most troublesome of all … it’s or its.

It’s means it is, but if you are attaching ownership, you would say, “The dog should pay attention to its master.”

There was a time when the general rule was to use apostrophes to show possession for people and animals (the dog’s fur, the lady’s hat), but to use “of” for inanimate things (the hood of the jacket, the eye of the needle), but this is now being disregarded in many cases. It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to “the car’s windshield” or “the book’s cover.”

One of the most common errors I see is the use of an apostrophe  with decades.

e.g. The  Beetles were popular in the 1960s. There should be NO apostrophe.

But if you shorten the decades to refer to the ’60s. This apostrophe is correct because it shows that something has been left out — in this case,  the 19. Be sure that the apostrophe is turned to face the same direction as a comma (not as at the beginning of a quotation).

Placement: The apostrophe comes after the word that has the ownership. If it is a singular noun, then you would put the apostrophe after that noun. If it is a plural noun, then put the apostrophe after the end of that word.

e.g. This is the dog’s collar.

These are the two dogs’ collars.

The use of apostrophes is more complex than one page  can do justice to, but consider this a beginner’s list of basic helpful hints.


19 thoughts on “Apostrophes – Commas in the Air

  1. Pingback: Apostrophes | wordsfromanneli

  2. It was good to revise some of the basic rules of writing Anneli. I really look forward to more such posts. Reading this helps in being more mindful when we write. Mostly when we type, we are so focussed on the idea we are trying to convey that we overlook the apostrophes, commas and periods.
    I have always found it difficult to decide whether to use long sentences with conjunctions, or many short ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t used it much lately, and since I don’t do much on twitter or facebook, it isn’t advertised much, so that’s why I mentioned it on my wordsfromanneli blog. I’m going to try to post more often on it, mostly about books and writing. If you’d like to advertise your latest book on it, I’d be happy to do that. It doesn’t have much circulation yet but you could let your blogging friends know about it when the post goes up. If you’d like to send me some things just email me – anneli.purchase33@gmail.com


  4. I’m so glad all this (at least these particular rules) comes easy to me. When I first learned to speak and write English, I struggled with the “it’s” and “its” (I still vividly remember this as it didn’t think there was a difference until someone pointed that out to me). More recently, I have been confused by the “s” after the years, as in the 1960s without an apostrophe. But, when I really make a mistake by not thinking straight, I blame it on English not being my first language. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Perfect timing. There is an English teacher in my critique group, and she’s telling me something regarding an apostrophe that I hadn’t done in the past.

    Here’s an example:

    Tobias’s hat.
    Jesus’s message.

    I wrote them as:

    Tobias’ hat.
    Jesus’ message.

    I was always taught that you don’t put an apostrophe ‘s’ after an ‘s.’ She told me that this is the way they do it these days. So, I’m doing it her way and changing it.

    P.S. Tobias is a main character in my story, and he speaks of Jesus a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She’s right about the recent change to adding the ‘s to words ending in s, but like any rule, there are many exceptions. I try to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, and they generally use the s’s form, but in some cases, like for goodness’ sake, or for righteousness’ sake, there is no extra s. Same with the United States’ role in international law, or Highland Hills’ late mayor (using the examples from the book – 16th edition of CMS, 7.15 to 7.28).

      Liked by 1 person

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