Apostrophe Catastrophe

apostropheThis tirade has been a long time comin’.  But I just can’t take it anymore. Will someone please tell me why most people can’t commit the most basic principles of apostrophe use to memory? Why, when it is actually very simple:

In English [the apostrophe] has two main functions: it marks omissions, and it assists in marking the possessives of nouns and some pronouns.


I am so tired of seeing ” ‘s ”  used to indicate plurality…it’s epidemic. And it’s wrong. So for those of you who have wondered, or can’t remember, here is a great, straightforward, simple explanation of appropriate apostrophe usage:

The most common way to form a possessive in English is with apostrophe and s: “a hard day’s night.” After a plural noun ending ins, put just an apostrophe: “two hours’ work” (i.e., “the work of two hours”). If a plural doesn’t end in s — childrenmenpeople — plain old apostrophe-s: “children’s,” “men’s,” “people’s.” It’s never “mens'” or “childrens’.”

There’s also the opposite case: when a singular noun ends in s. That’s a little trickier. Most style guides prefer s’sJames’s house. Plain old s-apostrophe (as in James’ house) is common in journalism, but most other publishers prefer James’s. It’s a matter of house style.

Note that, with the exception of the little-used one, the possessives of pronouns never get apostrophes: theirs, not their’shers, nother’sits, not it’s. See It’s versus Its.

Apostrophes are sometimes used to make acronyms or other abbreviations plural (another matter of a local house style). My preference: don’t use apostrophes to make abbreviations plural — not “They took their SAT’s,” but “They took their SATs.” The only exception is when having no apostrophe might be confusing: “Two As” is ambiguous (it might be read as the word as); make it “Two A’s.” Never use apostrophes as single quotation marks to set off words or phrases (unless you need a quotation within a quotation).

Using an apostrophe to refer to a decade — the 1960’s versus the 1960s — is another matter of house style; again, journalists tend to use the apostrophe, and most other publishers don’t. I prefer to omit it: refer to the 1960s or the ’60s (the apostrophe indicates that “19” has been omitted), not the 1960’s or (worse) the ’60’s.


Please, help me stop apostrope abuse!



  1. OMG THIS DRIVES ME NUTS!!! I have to proofread documents for my boss all the time and he’s guilty of this error. I’m pretty sure my dad and sister do it too- perhaps even my mom. Not sure how I lucked out and managed to get it right. I recently corrected someone in a forum I’m a part of. This was my post –

    “PS… not to be nit picky, but I’ve noticed this many times and it drives me nuts.

    Plural words do not require an apostrophe as you have written many times (belief’s, Australian’s, Scandal’s).

    sorry, just a pet peeve. ”

    Seriously- I feel like the older I get- the worse grammar/spelling/etc. I see out there!!

  2. Elsja…I agree, it does seem that the older I get, the more grammatical infractions I see. I think this goes hand-in-hand with the unfortunate fact that manners and propriety are quickly becoming customs of decades gone by. But I’m glad to know someone else out there is fighting the good fight!

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