BACK TO BASICS: APOSTROPHES
The implementation, or lack thereof, of proper punctuation can often make the difference between a clear sentence and a nonsensical one. As the writer, you do not want the reader to work to figure out your intent.
Unfortunately, in the age of texting, too many of us have decided that punctuation is a thing of the past. (Sorry. The preceding sentence should probably end with an exclamation point [!]). But if we’re being honest with ourselves, punctuation errors have been being made long before cell phones existed. One of the marks people have the most difficult with is the APOSTROPHE (‘)
I have a theory as to why the apostrophe presents such a problem to so many. Essentially, not enough time is spent in the classroom explaining the basic function of an apostrophe. Or rather, functions.
The apostrophe serves three general purposes.
To demonstrate possession
To be a placeholder for omitted characters (aka Contractions).
To form certain plurals
The possessive use of the apostrophe is the least troublesome. Basic examples of this are:
Dad’s car has over 100,000 miles on it already.
Jimmy’s guitar is acoustic, not electric.
Jason’s commencement ceremony is in December.
The apostrophe and the following –s reveal ownership of the noun. Now, some people have trouble when the person or object’s name ends with an –s to begin with. Here we just add the –s again
Chris’s computer is old.
The Bus’s tires are low on air pressure
With plural noun not ending in –s, once again just add apostrophe and –s.
Mom is shopping in the women’s department.
But for plural nouns ending in-s, add only the apostrophe.
The FBI agents’ suits were identical.
Both hockey teams’ jerseys were red.
Apostrophes are not used to make family surnames plural:
Incorrect : The Jennings’s are spies for the Soviet Union.
Correct : The Jenningses are spies for the Soviet Union.
The preceding examples show that words ending with –s are not all treated the same when it comes to apostrophe use. In order to implement correct usage, identify if noun is singular or plural.
Another –s ending word that people (*especially text-happy youth) have trouble with is its. Its is the possessive form of personal pronoun It and is often mistakenly written as it’s–the contraction of it is/it has–or vice versa.
When to use the contraction:
It’s getting dark out. We should head inside now. (Contraction of it is).
It’s been a tough couple of years. (Contraction of it has).
Now, the possessive form of it.
House of Cards is overrated. Its characters are not fully formed and the plot twists are unrealistic. (“Its” refers to the subject noun).
My computer is so slow. Probably because its software needs to be updated. (“Its” refers to the noun-the computer).
–A sentence could have also read: My computer is so slow. It’s probably because it’s so old and its software is out of date.
*Autocorrect texting hasn’t helped with people using proper use of it’s and its.
One of the more common and ever increasing misuses of apostrophes occurs when writing about the past. Here:.
Incorrect: The 90’s was a lame decade for music.
Correct: The ‘90s was a lame decade for music.
The apostrophe’s job here is to substitute the omitted 19 in 1990s. Another option is to just write 90s (If it has already been made clear what century you are referring).
Many youngsters also like the text the letter “n” and a substitute for “and”. However, if you are doing this in an essay/email/ or another formal setting, there needs to be apostrophes
on both sides of the “n.”
Rock ‘n’ roll music is actually rock and roll music.
There are not too many examples of when to shorten and to ‘n’. So maybe it’s best to break this texting habit before it starts to interfere with proper writing.
Sometimes an apostrophe does come between a number and an –s.
Zack Lavine received nothing but 9’s and 10’s in the dunk contest.
Or a lower case letter:
The key to learning algebra is understanding x’s and y’s.
With capitalized letters, apostrophes are not necessary (though some prefer/accept their usage). Hopefully, you will be saying this after you get your next report card.
I had nothing but As and Bs for the Spring Semester.
The rules of the English language have adapted and evolved throughout the centuries. If more and more educators accept written phrases A’s and B’s or 90’s music, it’s possible some of the apostrophe rules written out here may change. But for now, these guidelines are your best bets.