The Greengrocer’s Apostrophe

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The English language is confusing and its punctuation can be even more so. Each day I see commas and semicolons used incorrectly, but the most frequent infraction? Apostrophes – a lot of people misuse them and don’t even realize it. Do you?

There are correct and incorrect ways to use apostrophes, a few of which I’ve listed below.

Correct Ways to Use Apostrophes

Using an apostrophe is correct when the object of your sentence possesses something or when you are creating a contraction.

Possession: “The dog’s leash was red.”

Creating a Contraction: When creating a contraction, the apostrophe takes the place of omitted letters.

  • “Do not” becomes “don’t”
  • “Should have” becomes “should’ve“
  • ”Cannot” becomes “can’t”

Incorrect Ways to Use Apostrophes

Pluralizing Words: Called the “greengrocer’s apostrophe,” people often incorrectly use an apostrophe to pluralize something (writing “apple’s” instead of “apples”).

Pluralizing Letters: In most cases, this is incorrect; however, the Purdue Online Writing Lab states that you can use an apostrophe to create the plural of lowercase letters, such as p, t, i, or q. Capital letters are still a big no-no, though.

Pluralizing Numbers and Decades: When you want to create the plural of the number one, just put an s (“ones”), same with a decade. “The second world war started in the 1940s,” not the “1940’s.” You can use an apostrophe if you want to take off the century though and write “the ‘60s.”

Possessive Pronouns: This one is difficult because it seems counterintuitive; apostrophes are for possession, right?

In almost every case, to denote possession, you will use an apostrophe; that is, unless it’s a possessive pronoun such as her, his, my, your, our. It’s already possessive, which means you don’t need to take the extra step. (Note: Remember that “it’s” means “it is,” not that it possesses something.)

Words Not Commonly Used as Nouns

For words not commonly used as nouns, like “dos and don’ts” or “nos and yeses,” it is not correct to use an apostrophe (“do’s” or “no’s”), however, it may be easier to just work around it. You can write something like “yeas and nays” or “For every yes, expect a no.”

Note: Some writers do use apostrophes after no (“no’s”) or do (“do’s”) for clarity.

Words Ending in S

Correct

To me, this is strictly about style. Even though “Andres’s hair” is technically grammatically correct, most (myself included) do not see an issue with “Andres’ hair.” Just be consistent.

Incorrect

An s at the end of the word doesn’t automatically mean it needs an apostrophe. For example, you wouldn’t write “Jamie sleep’s until 11 am every day.”

These are only a few rules about how to correctly use apostrophes so if you have any more questions or are wondering about something I didn’t cover, you can check out the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s guide on using apostrophes. Check out last week’s blog on writing for your audience and come back next week to learn more about the Oxford comma.

And as always, if you need help writing, contact us at 888-521-3880.