Can you spot what is wrong with banana’s 70p a kilo in the title to this blog post? No? Then probably like many other people you are confused about where and when to use apostrophes (‘). In English, there are just two simple rules about the use of apostrophes. They are either used to denote possession (so in my blog title, the apostrophe is redundant) or to indicate contractions (missing letters in words).
The possessive apostrophe and an s shows when something belongs to someone or something. The actual position of the apostrophe is simply determined by whether the possessor is singular or plural. For example:
The girl’s dress. In this example the dress belongs to the girl (singular) so you add an apostrophe followed by an s.
The boys’ car. In this example the car belongs to the boys (plural). Because boys already ends in an s, you simply place an apostrophe after the s.
There seems to be no fixed rule about what you do with names that end in an s. For example, is it Chris’ car or Chris’s car? Because we typically pronounce a second s when we speak about the car belonging to Chris I would write Chris’s car.
Redundant apostrophes are sometimes referred to as a greengrocer’s apostrophe because greengrocers are renowned for putting apostrophes where they are not needed (see title) but they are by no means the only offenders. Signs and notices for all types of businesses also provide some good examples. Here are just a few examples from a website search:
Open Monday’s to Friday’s
chip’s and peas’
beer’s and tacos
TV’s and video’s
Next time you are out and about see how many you can spot.
In conversation we often use shortened forms of common expressions and so when we come to write them down we show what letters have been left out by inserting an apostrophe. For example:
didn’t = did not
there’s = there is
I’m = I am
it’s = it is
can’t = cannot
should’ve = should have (NOT should of)
Confusing it’s and its
Although we now know that an apostrophe is used to indicate possession, in the case of it’s we have revealed one of the tricks of the English language. It’s only has an apostrophe when it is a contraction of it is and not to indicate possession. For example: It’s raining today. In all other cases there is no apostrophe. So in the cat ate its food, its has no apostrophe.
There’s plenty of information about the apostrophe on the web including The Apostrophe Protection Society (yes really) which is devoted to the use (or mis-use) of this punctuation mark. The jury is still out on whether it’s greengrocer’s apostrophe (singular) or greengrocers’ apostrophe (plural) but let’s not bother ourselves with that.
Are apostrophes really necessary?
Some argue that apostrophes are unnecessary but in some situations the lack of an apostrophe (and commas!) can be misleading.