The apostrophe is the small but vital punctuation mark that makes the difference between knowing your sh*t and knowing you’re sh*t.
Yet, despite their importance, apostrophes are one of the most misunderstood punctuation marks. We’ve all smiled (or groaned) at the apostrophe slip-ups we see daily. Who hasn’t winced at greengrocers’ signs like “Tomatoe’s” and “Apple’s”? Not to mention numerous other abominations such as “Carvery’s”, “Crisp’s” “Tattoo’s” and “Open Sunday’s”. (In fact, greengrocers are such prolific offenders there’s even a name for their mistakes: “the greengrocer’s apostrophe”).
One simple rule
But even if you’re not a professional copywriter, apostrophes are simple if you remember one simple rule:
There are only two possible uses for an apostrophe.
Yep, just two. One is to show ownership of something – a possessive apostrophe – and the other being to denote a letter (or letters) left out of a word – known as a contraction or abbreviation apostrophe. It really is that simple.
For instance, here’s an example of a possessive apostrophe being used:
“Many believe a company’s carelessness over spelling and grammar could reflect a lack of attention to detail in other areas.”
And here, an abbreviation apostrophe has been used to represent a missing word – in this case ‘not’:
“Poor grammar doesn’t help you create a professional image.”
OK, that’s not strictly true . . .
Admittedly, things can get slightly more complicated with words and names that already end in an ‘s’ but for a singular word ending in ‘s’ we just add ‘s – as in “the boss’s complaint”. And for plurals ending in ‘s’ we add an apostrophe only after the ‘s’, like this:
“Our clients’ marketing communications inspire confidence.”
Note that there’s no extra ‘s’ alongside that apostrophe after the ‘s’.
Hope that’s cleared things up! What’s the worst apostrophe offence you’ve seen?
If you’d like the reassurance of knowing your marketing doesn’t contain any grammatical howlers, please get in touch!