Does proper use of apostrophes confuse you?

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

If you're confused over the proper use of apostrophes, you're not alone. 

In a recent questionnaire, I asked my newsletter readers if there were some topics they'd like me to cover. One reader said "Grammar! And please start with the use of apostrophes."

 

Since the explanation is a bit long for the newsletter, I added a simple answer with a link to this post…

How to use apostrophes

Apostrophes have two functions. One is to stand in for letters that are missing. In the most grammar bookcommon use, they form a contraction - such as turning can and not into can't or will and not into won't.

Contractions are useful because they slightly alter the meaning or "feel" of a statement. They're a bit more casual than the words written separately.

Think back to being a kid. If you asked for a second bottle of soda pop (or a pony, or violent video game, or ??) and Mom said "No you can't have one," you might think that if you ask again later she just might give in. If she said "No, you can not," It sounded a bit more like the final answer.

In the context of standing in for missing letters, apostrophes are also used to write slang, or a local dialect. Here's an example from Grammar Girl: "I saw 'em talkin' yonder," with apostrophes to indicate that the speaker said 'em instead of them (t-h-e-m), and talkin' instead of talking (t-a-l-k-i-n-g).

The other is to create a possessive, and while we sometimes see an apostrophe stuck into the middle of a word where it doesn't remotely belong, (as in ladie's for ladies') where we see it misused most often is when writers use an apostrophe to form a plural.

 

Plurals are formed by adding an "s" (dogs, cars, boats) or "es" (dresses, businesses, glasses).
Possessive's are formed by adding 's (apostrophe s) or simply an apostrophe.

(As you see below, the plural of some words (lady) is formed by dropping a y and adding ies, but that's a whole other topic. Our focus here is on the fact that plurals are NOT formed with apostrophes.) 

 

correct and incorrect buttons

 

More than one agent: agents
Belonging to an agent: agent's
Belonging to a group of agents: agents'

More than one cat: cats
Belonging to a cat: cat's
Belonging to more than one cat: cats'

More than one lady: ladies
Belonging to one lady: lady's
Belonging to more than one lady: ladies'

Notice that if the noun already ends in s – as in ladies – the apostrophe just gets tacked on to the end. You don't need to add another s.

 

Exceptions always cause complications:

The only exceptions to this rule about possession being formed by an apostrophe are hers and yours and theirs and its. The first three don't usually give much trouble, but many confuse its and it's. There is no apostrophe when you mean "belonging to it." You simply write "its." Try to link it up in your mind with hers and yours and theirs.

"It's" is still the contraction – the joining of the words "it" and "is."

One rule that you might keep in mind …

If you see an apostrophe s, or an apostrophe at the end of a noun ending in s, something has to follow that could belong to the noun.

The car's bumper.

The cat's scratching post.

The agent's reputation.

Ladies' night.

A statement such as "There were 6 car's in the lot" is obviously incorrect. Six car's what? It could perhaps be six car's tracks in the snow, but it has to be something that belonged to those six cars.

If it's firm in your mind that an apostrophe s means "belonging to," you'll start to see signs that make you laugh. These are especially common in grocery stores, small cafes, and neighborhood shops. They read something like:

 

sign with incorrect grammar

 

 You'll ask yourself "Green grape's what is $2.49?"

 

I once saw a commercially printed 4' X 8' sign on the exterior of a building that read "Get your box's here." I did laugh out loud at that one. 

For more on this topic, visit Grammar Girl at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/apostrophe-catastrophe-part-one

 

 

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos.net

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Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
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Laura Cerrano Yes - I would love it if people would stop using apostrophes to form plurals! That gets the whole message mixed up. 

Aug 28, 2015 03:22 AM #78
Rainmaker
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Jane Peters
Home Jane Realty - Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles real estate concierge services

The apostrophe is so often misusedand often inserted when one letter is used, like mind you ps and qs. Or is it correct to say p's and q's?

Aug 28, 2015 05:18 AM #79
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Hi Jane Peters. The rule is that when pluralizing a single letter, you DO use the apostrophe. So, p's and q's is correct, as are I's, a's, and u's. Grammar Girl suggests that this is the rule because to pluralize letters such as I, a, and u would be confusing. It would turn them into is, as, and us. 

Aug 28, 2015 07:16 AM #80
Rainmaker
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Nina Hollander
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Charlotte, NC
Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor

Marte Cliff  ~ hi Marte, this is one that doesn't stump me, but I know many people don't get it. Always seemed easy to me, so I don't quite ever understand why many people do have a problem.

Aug 28, 2015 07:31 AM #81
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Nina Hollander I expect it's just a matter of some things coming easy to some but not to others.

My sons cannot understand how I can use a computer and be a complete idiot when it comes to programming a phone or a VCR. I never understood the co-worker who said she just couldn't "get" maps. My husband can't understand why I can never remember the steps for starting our generator. 

I don't understand why some insist on using an apostrophe to form a plural. (P's and Q's excepted, of course.)

Aug 28, 2015 07:49 AM #82
Rainmaker
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Nina Hollander
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Charlotte, NC
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Marte Cliff ~ good morning, Marte. The human mind surely is a mystery that none of us will ever be able to fully explain!

Aug 28, 2015 09:40 PM #83
Rainmaker
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Jane Peters
Home Jane Realty - Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles real estate concierge services

Thank you for that clarification. I have always tried to resist.

 

Aug 29, 2015 03:17 AM #84
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Jane - You're more than welcome. I really enjoy all I learn from answering questions here. It forces me to go do the research that I'd be too lazy to do just for myself. 

Aug 29, 2015 04:08 AM #85
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Nina Hollander It certainly is. I'm just glad we all have different talents and tastes. Wouldn't it be a boring world if we were all clones? 

Aug 29, 2015 04:09 AM #86
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Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
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That's interesting that commas are used to make individual letters plurals. I normally pluralize them by putting the letter in quotation marks. "p"s and "q"s....not sure why, probably because I had no idea how to really do it. 

Aug 30, 2015 12:46 AM #87
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner I believe I've done it that way too. 

Aug 30, 2015 01:19 AM #88
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Debbie Reynolds
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Another good lesson Marte. I have never had a problem with apostrophes. But I see them used all different ways.

Aug 30, 2015 11:14 AM #89
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Debbie Reynolds ...and some of those ways are pretty goofy! 

Aug 30, 2015 02:05 PM #90
Rainer
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Cathy Turney
Better Homes Realty - Walnut Creek, CA
Making Fun of Real Estate and Twitter!

Love this, Marte! My copy editor disproved my theory that if I didn't know where the comma goes, probably nobody else does either!

Aug 31, 2015 09:57 AM #91
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Marte - you see, all that stuff was pretty easy to learn back in my old country. I usually did not have problem with it before, nor now. The problem is always with verbal communication. That's where the nuances come, and there is very often the confusion.

Aug 31, 2015 02:02 PM #92
Rainmaker
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Mery Fernandez Empire Network Realty Luxury Brokerage
Empire Network Realty INC. - Orlando, FL
The Rise of An Empire, Let's Build Yours!

Hello and congratulations on your featured blog post! Well done and hope to see you have many more featured post. 

Sep 01, 2015 01:12 AM #93
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Cathy Turney I partially agree with your theory. There are many people who don't know. Better yet, some of them will assume that you DO know. Of course, then there are the others - the ones who do know. 

Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL Which is a good reason why verbal communication (if it's important) should later be verified in writing. 

 

Sep 02, 2015 02:52 AM #94
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
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Marte Cliff - this is very true. Helps to eliminate any ambiguity... I once spoke to my former client, who is an immigrant from Middle East, and we were catching up... I usually understand about 50% of what he says, often then say what I think he said to get his "yes" or frustrated "no"...

My wife asked me about the conversation, and I told her that he either divorced or got maried, but I was not 100% sure what it was :)

Sep 02, 2015 04:13 AM #95
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL That sounds like me talking with my sister-in-law. She's not only a scatter-brain, she had a stroke a few years ago and can't always find the words she wants. I just let her ramble on because most of the time I can't figure out what she's saying - even though she generally repeats everything 4 or 5 times. 

Sep 02, 2015 04:43 AM #96
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
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I found a glaring example of "Oh my, what were they thinking" while reading reviews of security cameras: 

 "I really like these cameras you can see everything very clear outside and even something's at night."

 

Sep 06, 2015 02:11 AM #97
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