Home Bindoon Bookworm Back To Basics refresher: apostrophes

Back To Basics refresher: apostrophes

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Those of you who have been following the Bindoon Bookworm since the beginning will probably remember that every now and then I like to get my grammar geek on and will take you Back to Basics. I go over the basic rules of grammar and punctuation that many of us have forgotten over the years since we left school. I do this not to be an annoying pedant (even though I kind of am) but mostly because basic mistakes such as these can affect how you’re perceived in a professional and community setting. From an email to a potential business partner to a social media post on behalf of your community group, getting the basics correct will ensure that you’re taken seriously.

On today’s agenda are apostrophes. My favourite! Apostrophes are used in three different ways: to show possession by adding an apostrophe and the letter s (My Mum’s friends were shocked by my foul language); marking the place of omitted letters in a contraction (Mum wasn’t happy with me); and to show the plural of single letter words (Mum told me to mind my P’s and Q’s).

Of course, the English language can never just be simple and so the rules surrounding apostrophes get complicated. What happens when the noun you want to make possessive already ends in an s? There’s two ways to go about this with neither being more correct than the other, so long as you pick a side and stick with it. You can either simply add an apostrophe after the first s or you can follow the primary rule and add an apostrophe and another s. Mrs Jones’ mouth dropped open in shock is just as correct as Mrs Jones’s mouth dropped open in shock.

The biggest mistake people make is using an apostrophe to make a regular noun a plural. It’s not DVD’s, nor is it box’s, or can’s. Plurals of these words are made either from adding an s (DVDs, cans) or adding an es (boxes).

The other common mistake is not using contractions but using an entirely different word instead. You’ll be most familiar with these if you use social media…it makes my eyes twitch when I see someone use there instead of they’re or your instead of you’re! If you’re unsure, sound out the two words that would make up the contraction – you are, do not, would have. The apostrophe replaces the letters that are missing (you’re, don’t, would’ve).
You might not think that it matters in the long run, but trust me, you’ll get taken much more seriously if you master the basics.