With the boom in content marketing, online copywriting and microcopy, grammar mistakes are creating more negative impact than ever - costing companies money, and even more importantly, clients. Once you click that tweet button, your mistakes are out in the wild… whether you like it or not.
No need to fret, we’ve got you covered with tips to avoid common grammatical blunders. Apostrophe misusage is a pet peeve here at Wordsmith HQ (we don’t get out much), so let’s take a closer look at the English language’s most horridly abused punctuation mark…
Use an Apostrophe to Indicate Omission of Letters in a Contraction
Use an apostrophe to indicate missing letters when two words are contracted. For example:
· it is = it’s
· are not = aren’t
· they have = they’ve
Use An Apostrophe To Show Possession For Singular Nouns
An apostrophe followed by an “s” shows ownership or possession. For example:
· the dog’s bone
· Larry’s copywriting guide
For names already ending in “s”, you can use either apostrophe followed by an “s”, or just an apostrophe. Both are considered correct, though the former is more common:
· Ross’s book / Ross’ book
· the James’s house / the James’ house
Use an Apostrophe Without the “S” for Plural Nouns.
An apostrophe followed by an “s” shows ownership or possession by plural nouns:
· The children’s playground
· The women’s husbands
If the plural noun ends in “s”, use just an apostrophe to indicate possession:
· The boys’ rugby team
· The workers’ union
Use an apostrophe followed by “s” to show possession by a compound noun
To indicated possession by a compound noun, use an apostrophe followed by an “s” on the last word of the compound noun:
· My sister-in-law's love of chocolate knows no bounds.
Possession by two equal subjects
This is where it starts to get tricky. What if there are two equal possessive singular nouns in one sentence? Consider the following sentence:
· Wieden and Kennedy own an Advertising Agency.
How do we change this to the possessive form? Firstly, whose advertising agency is it? It belongs to both Wieden and Kennedy. So if we want to indicate possession, the apostrophe would go at the end of Kennedy only.
· Wieden and Kennedy’s Advertising Agency
What if Wieden and Kennedy both owned separate advertising agencies? In that case, you would put an apostrophe and an “s” after both names to distinguish ownership:
· Wieden’s and Kennedy’s Advertising Agencies
Don’t confuse “its” and “it’s”
This is the mistake everyone dreads making, but they keep doing it anyway. We’re here to set the record straight. These two words may sound the same but they hold completely different meanings when used in a sentence.
“It's” is a contraction of “it is”. To check if you’re using it correctly, your sentence should always make sense if you replace “it’s” with “it is”:
· Correct: I just realized it’s Monday tomorrow. / I just realized it is Monday tomorrow.
· Incorrect: The cat pushed it’s bowl on the floor. / The cat pushed it is bowl on the floor.
“Its” is a possessive pronoun. Although we normally use an apostrophe to indicate possession, possessive pronouns are exceptions to the rule:
· Correct: The mouse nibbled its cheese.
· Incorrect: The mouse nibbled it’s cheese / The mouse nibbled it is cheese.
· Correct: Venom spewed from its fangs.
· Incorrect: Venom spewed from it’s fangs. / Venom spewed from it is fangs.
“Who’s” or “whose”?
Much like “it’s” and “its”, “who’s” and “whose” are also commonly (and incorrectly) interchanged.
“Who’s” is a contraction of “who is”. You should always be able to replace “who’s” with “who is” in a sentence:
· Correct: Who’s coming to dinner? / Who is coming to dinner?
· Incorrect: I forgot who’s book it was. / I forgot who is book it was.
“Whose” is a possessive pronoun, like “its”. Apostrophes are not necessary as possessive pronouns already indicate possession:
· Correct: Whose bag is that by the door?
· Incorrect: Who’s bag is that by the door? / Who is bag is that by the door?
When NOT to use an apostrophe
After all is said and written, one of the most common apostrophe errors is adding one where it’s not needed. Working in Copywriting and Editing we have discovered apostrophes in the strangest of places (some that we blush to mention), so we thought we’d round up some of the most frequent culprits:
• Do not use apostrophes with possessive pronouns: ours, whose, yours, hers, his, its or theirs. These words already indicate possession and do not require an extra apostrophe.
• Don’t use apostrophes in plural nouns that are not possessives: the 1980s, CDs, ATMs.
Some parting wisdom
When you’re having doubts over whether to use an apostrophe, ask yourself: Does this word indicate possession? Are two distinct words being combined into one contraction? And the scariest of all: is an apostrophe even necessary?
If you’re still not sure, drop us a line at Wordsmith and we’ll tell you if you’ve used that apostrophe correctly – completely free of charge.
Misused apostrophes bother us THAT much.
(Picture from The Oatmeal)