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Style Guide – A Guide to Using Apostrophes Correctly (Part 1)

Posted on : 19-01-2011 | By : admin | In : Blog, Help with Writing

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Photo on Flickr by mag3737

I saw a question on a writers’ forum the other day. It read:

‘Is it time to abolish apostrophes completely?’

I can understand the writer’s frustration. Apostrophes are one piece of punctuation that it is very easy to get wrong – as demonstrated regularly on pub notices round where I live. Yet in the opening three sentences, I have used two apostrophes and used them perfectly correctly. So it is possible to learn how to use apostrophes. Here is a guide of when to use apostrophes and how to use them correctly.

E.g.         Jack’s computer

Jane’s bag

Both these objects belong to the person mentioned and so we use an apostrophe before we add an ‘s’.

However, sometimes the person’s name already ends in ‘s’ or more than one:

The bag belongs to Jess.

In this case, it is more usual to drop the extra ‘s’. Some writers may include it as a force of habit.

Jess’ bag (but it is still said, ‘Jesses bag’)

Easy enough when dealing with someone’s name but what if it is an animal, an object or even a pronoun?

The lion’s roar was loud.

The mouse’s squeak was quiet.

What if there can be confusion over whether the word is singular (one) or plural (more than one).

E.g.         The girls’ shrieks followed them on the roller coaster.

Here there is more than one girl. The word is plural, so the apostrophe goes on the outside of the word.

What about this?

The girl’s shrieks followed her on the roller coaster.

There is only one girl, so there is an apostrophe and an ‘s’. The use of the word ‘her’ rather than ‘them’ later on in the sentence confirms that there is only one girl rather than two or more.

You know that you might have got an apostrophe wrong if the sentence doesn’t quite seem to make sense. Are these right or wrong?

The boy’s shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girl’s tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ant’s crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

How did you do?

The answers were: wrong, right, wrong, right, wrong. In every case there was another word in the sentence which confirmed whether the initial word was singular or plural.

The boys’ shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girls’ tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ants’ crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

So if you are unsure where to place your apostrophe, then look for other words in the sentence which may help you to decide. Alternatively, decide which would make more sense.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by Mag3737

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[…] In the last article, we talked about apostrophes and the ways that they could alter meaning. To read back what was said, click on the article title: A Guide to Using Apostrophes Correctly Part 1. […]

[…] the first post on Apostrophes, we looked at using them with plurals and singular nouns to show possession. The second post looked […]