Your guide to apostrophes (not apostrophe’s)
So, I think we need to talk about apostrophes. Their misuse has gotten a bit out of hand lately.
To be clear, I don’t actually care how other people use apostrophes. Outside of my work as an editor, I’m not bothered by others’ grammatical errors. But I do think that you look less professional and therefore might be hurting your career when you misuse them. So, let’s go over their uses.
An apostrophe is used to indicate possession or to create a conjunction (indicate that something is missing). You do not need an apostrophe to make something plural.
And when I say you “don’t need it,” I don’t mean that it’s not required but it’s OK to have, like, you don’t need a new dress but you can go ahead and buy one anyway. I mean putting one there is wrong. Don’t do it.
On the wall of an office I was in recently was the following sign: “Don’t forget. Mid-year check in’s are due July 10.”
Can you spot the error?
There should be no apostrophe in there. It should read “Mid-year check ins.” (I’m not sure about the hyphen either, but I’ll let it go.)
Here are some example of using an apostrophe to show possession:
The file is on Mark’s computer.
We will need to access the network’s shared drive to see the report’s contents.
Got that? OK, here are some examples of not using an apostrophe to make something plural.
The books are on the shelf.
I ate three burritos for lunch.
See? Not “burrito’s.”
When creating a possessive with a plural, add the apostrophe after the “s,” as in “The employees’ parking spaces were all full.” This doesn’t apply when the plural isn’t indicated by an “s,” as in “The women’s bathroom.”
If you’re making another kind of word that ends in “s” into a possessive, you can either add and apostrophe “s” or just put the apostrophe at the end of the word:
“I just sent you Chris’ resume” and “I just sent you Chris’s resume” are both acceptable, though I prefer the second, myself.
Now, when it comes to acronyms, like, say, “CEOs” and “KPIs,” some say it’s OK to have an apostrophe there. Ditto for “CDs,” “TVs,” “IDs,” etc. I say that’s ridiculous, and so do others. But you don’t necessarily have to do what I say here.
One time you should use an apostrophe to create a plural is with a single letter word. As in “There are two e’s in “meeting.” I just learned this today. I guess I don’t know everything there is to know about apostrophes myself.
And a time when you should not use an apostrophe to indicate possession is with “its.” That’s because it’s being used by “it’s” meaning “it is.” So, something had to give.
- It’s well known that the organization is known for its innovative marketing strategies.
Now, here are some examples of contractions using apostrophes:
For the record, it’s “Dos and Don’ts” NOT “Do’s and Dont’s.”
Then there’s “won’t,” which should, for all appearances be “win’t,” since it’s a contraction of “will not,” but don’t blame me. I didn’t create the English language. (More on that here, if you’re interested.)
Here’s another contraction: “Mark’s looking for the file.”
Pretty straightforward, I think.
Finally, let’s look at years and numbers.
You also don’t need an apostrophe when referring to a decade or an era, like the 1600s or the 1970s. But you do need it if you shorten 1970s to the ‘70s. Also, you could use one to indicate that something is of the 1970s, as in belongs to that era, as in “The 1970’s disco craze.”
Again, there are those who will quibble with some of that – so, it might not cost you anything to use one – but they are, in my opinion, absolutely wrong.
If you take nothing else away from this, please at least stop using apostrophes to create plurals.