If you are a fellow word nerd, I’m sure you have a punctuation pet peeve that makes you cringe every time you see it.
For me, one of my bigger peeves (one that makes my skin crawl, teeth hurt, eyes twitch — you name it) is the misuse and abuse of the apostrophe.
Have you ever received a Christmas letter in the mail with a return address label that says “Love, the Connolly’s”?
Or seen a sign that reads “Coffee and Doughnut’s”?
How about an email confirmation that “your shipment is on it’s way”?
Are you with me?
I’ve lamented about apostrophes before, but for some reason, I’ve noticed quite an uptick in their misuse lately. Thus… this
blog post rant is simply necessary.
But before we get into the don’ts of using apostrophes, let’s be sure you know the correct ways apostrophes are used. There are three main reasons to use an apostrophe according to one of my favorite style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style:
- To indicate the possessive case (My sister’s name is Geraldine.)
- To stand in for missing letters or numerals (I had so much fun in the ’70s.)
- Or to form the plural of certain expressions (All those x’s and y’s can be overwhelming.)
Pretty simple, right? Oh, but how we humans like to mangle our punctuation marks. Commiserate with me as I discuss six ways to NOT use apostrophes.
Misuse #1: Do NOT use an apostrophe + s to make nouns plural.
This is one of the most rampant misuses of the apostrophe out there. When people want to make a word plural, for some reason they also want to tack on an apostrophe. An apostrophe shows possession.
Incorrect: I eat pancake’s and vegan sausage’s almost every day.
NOPE. The apostrophe + s indicates possession — and the pancakes and sausages aren’t possessing anything (except maybe lots of calories).
So let’s fix it!
Correct: I eat pancakes and vegan sausages almost every day.
Much better 🙂
Or how about this one…
Incorrect: Apostrophe’s always confuse me.
LOL. This one is just really wrong. Let’s correct it before I really start to twitch.
Correct: Apostrophes always confuse me.
Misuse #2: Do NOT use an apostrophe + s to make a proper name plural.
Now I KNOW this one is waaaay up there on the list of annoyances for grammar nerds. We have all received holiday cards at some point that look like these:
Incorrect: Love from the Smith’s.
Incorrect: The Jones’s are sending you well wishes for the holidays.
(And you gotta love to hate that passive voice!!)
It’s almost like people want to complicate things by adding an extra apostrophe in there. To make proper names plural, you either add an s or es. Add the s if the name ends in a consonant; add es if the name already ends in s.
Correct: Love from the Smiths.
Correct: The Joneses are sending you well wishes for the holidays.
(BONUS! To get rid of the passive voice, use an active verb: The Joneses wish you well for the holidays.)
Misuse #3: Do NOT use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns.
It is never, ever appropriate to put an apostrophe + s with a possessive pronoun. You should never see your’s, her’s, their’s, etc.
Incorrect: What’s your’s is mine, and what’s mine is your’s.
Correct: What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is yours.
Here are two really popular mistakes I see all. the. time.
Incorrect: I love how shiny it’s coat is.
Incorrect: Who’s red pens are these?
It’s is a contraction for it is. Who’s is a contraction for who is. My trick to know if you’re using the correct word: substitute the contraction for what it stands for. In this case, you wouldn’t say “I love how shiny it is coat is” or “Who is red pens are these?” So you know both contractions are incorrect.
Correct: I love how shiny its coat is.
Correct: Whose red pens are these?
Misuse #4: Do NOT use an apostrophe in verbs.
This error isn’t as common as others, but it still pops up on occasion. I chalk it up to that compulsive need some folks have to add an apostrophe in the most random places 😉
Incorrect: My brother always find’s fun things to do.
Incorrect: Jane always see’s faces in the clouds.
Written with apostrophes, the verbs appear like contractions. Similar to Misuse #3, you can substitute what the contraction stands for to see if it makes sense. In this case, “find is” and “see is” make zero sense in those sentences, so get those apostrophes outta there!
Correct: My brother always finds fun things to do.
Correct: Jane always sees faces in the clouds.
Misuse #5: Do NOT use an apostrophe with noun-derived adjectives ending in s.
I can see how this one could be tempting for some. But alas, adding an apostrophe is still no bueno.
Incorrect: The Texas’ sunrise is a sight to behold.
Incorrect: I like those Christmas’ decorations.
Correct: The Texas sunrise is a sight to behold.
Correct: I like those Christmas decorations.
Misuse #6: Do NOT use an apostrophe in numbers and abbreviations that are plural but not possessive.
Incorrect: I was born in the 1990’s.
Incorrect: I have two BA’s and three PhD’s.
Adding apostrophes here makes the sentences look clunky and less readable. When in doubt, take ’em out!
Correct: I was born in the 1990s.
Correct: I have two BAs and three PhDs.
I love sharing my word nerdiness with you guys! Not many people out there get as hot and bothered as we do about grammar, so it’s fun to nerd out about things like apostrophes. We could use a few more of us in the world, yeah?!
Do you have a particular grammar pet peeve? Or have you ever been guilty of committing one of these apostrophe crimes? Share it with me in the comments — I promise I won’t judge 🙂
If you want to learn even more about apostrophes and other grammar-related fun, be sure to check out my FREE 45-minute workshop. You can use those grammar skillz to start your own freelance proofreading hustle!