To apostrophe, or not to apostrophe? That is the question…
Shakespeare’s most famous line may have dealt with life and death, but for professional services businesses, getting apostrophes wrong could kill a deal with a new client.
On Point Copywriting’s handy guide shows three instances when apostrophes should be used, and one when they shouldn’t. It’s not exhaustive, but covers off the main usage.
Apostrophes to show possession or a link
This is perhaps the most obvious use, and the one that stands out most when it is missed. If something belongs to someone or something else, we normally use an apostrophe and the letter s to show that. So:
The client’s contract was watertight – the watertight contract belongs to the client
What about if the word already ends in s?
If it is still singular, then still use an apostrophe s, so:
Mr Jones’s umbrella was leaking – the leaky umbrella belonged to Mr Jones
If a plural word ends in s, then we just go with an apostrophe (no additional s). So:
The solicitors’ ties were identical – two (or maybe even more!) solicitors wore exactly the same tie.
If a plural word doesn’t end in an s – think child/children, man/men for example – an apostrophe s would be added as normal, so:
The men’s toilet was out of order – the toilet used by gentlemen.
There is no such word as ‘mens’, despite what signs in some hotels or public places may have you believe!
Apostrophes to show shortened word formations
Another common use for apostrophes is to show that letters are missing in contracted words. You are probably familiar with these, but here are some examples:
- Couldn’t – Could not
- Won’t – Will not
- Don’t – Do not
- It’s – It is*
Generally, quite easy to get right, although watch out for that last one with the asterix, as we will explain later.
Apostrophes to show time and worth
When you are writing phrases that express a value of time or worth, an apostrophe is required, so:
- In three years’ time,
- Give two weeks’ notice
- A pound’s worth
When not to use apostrophes
Sorry to use the technical phrase, but possessive pronouns:
- And most easy to muddle – its*!
*So it’s means it is. And its refers to something that belongs to it
Do you need help with proof reading?
On Point Copywriting offer a handy proof-reading service, that can help you eliminate erroneous apostrophes and much more. Get in touch to get a quote.