Grammar Points #3: How to Avoid Apostrophe Atrocities

To apostrophe or not to apostrophe? That is the question you need to ask when writing.sadapostrophe

Otherwise, as August 15’s celebration of International Apostrophe Day made abundantly clear, you will be mocked.

Among the best pieces of apostrophe advice we’ve heard? When in doubt, leave it out. But even that smart rule of thumb doesn’t always work.

Here are three common apostrophe mistakes and simple ways to avoid them:

1. Would you send your preschooler someplace that made this proud proclamation?


Do not add an apostrophe “s” just to make any noun plural. Your store isn’t open Friday night’s, but Friday night’s closing time is 9 p.m. See the difference there? In the first sentence, we want to refer to the plural of “night,” so “nights” should be the choice. In the second sentence, we’re talking about the closing time this particular Friday night — or “Friday night’s closing time.”

Sadly, schools are some of the worst grammar offenders we’ve seen. They may as well be shouting,”Our Preschooler’s Can Read! But Our Teacher’s Can’t Write!”



2. Would you buy clothes from a store whose name is so weird you don’t even know how to pronounce it?


Apparently, this photo was taken in France, but that’s not a good enough excuse; the sign is written in English. One of the most common — and overlooked — apostrophe atrocities has to do with how to treat a word ending in “s” as a possessive noun. We’ll admit, there’s a lot of debate over apostrophe-s and s-apostrophe. Even two of the leading writer’s manuals, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, can’t seem to agree, as the AP vs. Chicago blog so succinctly explains:

Plural Common Nouns Ending in S
AP and Chicago: Add an apostrophe.
• the students’ questions                 • the teachers’ headaches

Singular Common Nouns Ending in S
AP: Add apostrophe-s unless the next word begins with s.
• the duchess’s hat                          • the duchess’ style

Chicago: Add apostrophe-s.
• the duchess’s hat                          • the duchess’s style


Proper Nouns Ending in S
AP: Add an apostrophe.
• Charlaine Harris’ books      • the Joneses’ competition

Chicago: Add apostrophe-s if singular, and add an apostrophe if plural.
• Socrates’s tea                    • the Obamas’ garden

Pick a style, and stick with it. 


3. Would you let your kids read a book with such a blatant grammatical error?

LetsReadEither “Friendly Ben” needs to go back to school, or his author-owner shouldn’t let him write. The need for a contraction — the combining of “let” and “us,” in this case — provides one of the few situations in which an apostrophe actually is necessary. A contraction combines two words, using the apostrophe to represent the missing letter or letters.

We’ve seen the exotic “I’am” and the not-quite “your’e.” And then there’s the frightening “home bake’t delicious muffin” sign we saw online, which is so messed up that it doesn’t adhere to any apostrophe rules.

Base the decision to use contractions in your business writing on your customers’ preferences, your brand’s overall tone and message, and the type of writing in question. Avoiding contractions simply because they are more informal and you think they will more easily offend your clients is old-school thinking and no longer a hard rule. Just be sure that the contractions you do choose are accurate.

Share some other apostrophe atrocities in the comment section below, and tell us what kind of apostrophe issues get you stuck most often.

(Photos by and arripay/flickr)

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