‘I’m an apostrophe. I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see.’
--Whatever it takes, Imagine Dragons
Although this lyric is true, it doesn’t show the whole picture of what an apostrophe symbolises. How many times have you sat there and thought ‘does the apostrophe go before or after the s’ or ‘does this word need an apostrophe’?
Well, never fear because this blog post will be able to help you in making that decision (hopefully). See, we could sit here all day and talk about plural and singular nouns, possessives, placenames and all that jazz, but does that still answer your question? Maybe, but let me try and explain it in a simpler manner using the Australian Style manual for authors, editors and printers (Snooks & Co 2002).
Originally, apostrophes were used to indicate an omission of letters in a word or a contraction, such as ‘don’t’ for ‘do not’ or ‘they’re’ for ‘they are’. However, over time it became common to see an apostrophe used before an s to indicate possession. Then, we started to see apostrophes used after an s to, again, show possession but in a different form. Now, there are a range of different uses! Just try to avoid doing things like putting apostrophe’s whe’re they do’nt belong.
Possession and the use of common (singular and plural) nouns
When talking about something in the singular, meaning something on its own, and it possesses something (I’m using the word something a lot), then that singular being deserves an apostrophe. For example, ‘the professor’s answer’, ‘the cat’s milk’ and ‘the person’s marbles’.
This is still the case even if the singular common noun has an s at the end of the word. This would then mean you would have a word that would have s’s at the end. It doesn’t look nice, but it is what it is. For example, ‘the lens’s colour’ and ‘the dress’s hem’.
Plural common nouns are a little more complicated. This is when there are multiple people or things who own the same thing (great explanation, I know). If in these instances the plural noun ends with an s (for example, students), the apostrophe comes after the s. For example, ‘the students’ blazers’, which would be used when talking about all the students and their blazers. However, if the plural noun doesn’t end with an s, then the apostrophe goes before the s. For example, ‘the people’s emotions’.
Take note that possessive pronouns do not use apostrophes. These are words like my, your, his, its, ours, etc.
Basically, if the name is a personal name (aka a person’s name) then it should have an apostrophe before the s. Although it is debateable, this is also the case for people with names ending in s, such as Dickens. For example, ‘Delilah’s makeup’ and ‘Dicksons’s work’.
In regards to names of businesses, unions or any industry, it really depends on the name it has been given. Although The Retailers House and Home might not be grammatically correct, if that is the name of the institution then it should be referred to in that way. It is becoming common for businesses to leave the apostrophe out of their name, which is fine. So, when you refer to them, respect their decision!
For placenames, such as Kings Cross, it really depends on the country you’re in. However, in most cases, the apostrophe is left out. In Australia, the convention is that no apostrophe is used.
Phrases and compound titles as possessives
Just like singular and plural common nouns, possessive phrases and compound titles do receive apostrophes in sentences. This could be something like ‘I grabbed someone else’s mail’ or ‘the Leader of the Club’s pants’.
However, when there are multiple people involved, for example, a mum and dad, and they are in joint ownership of something, then only the latter needs an apostrophe. This can be seen in a sentence like ‘mum and dad’s cookbook’ or ‘Penelope and Ryan’s dog’. If they do not have a joint ownership, then each name needs an apostrophe. For example, ‘her mother’s and father’s books’ or ‘Jenny’s and Greg’s tennis balls’
Although some phrases sound possessive, say a drivers licence, you’d think it would need an apostrophe. Well, no. Things such as a drivers licence and visitors book are now more descriptive.
However, there are instances where it would be necessary to add the apostrophe, mostly when it is in regards to ownership. For example, ‘the male driver’s licence’ or ‘the female visitor’s book’.
I know Word likes to provide a squiggly line under a lot of expressions of time if they don’t include an apostrophe. However, if you’re not doing it it’s no big deal! Apostrophes used for ‘a couple of weeks’ time’ and sentences like that are kind of going out of fashion.
Nonetheless, you are still expected to provide an apostrophe when the time is in the singular, almost as if it is a possessive. For example, ‘the day’s agenda’.
I mean, as you can probably see from all of this, apostrophes don’t just symbolise that there is ‘more to see’ (although I do really like that song and lyric). They should only be used in situations where there is a contraction being used OR when something is in possession of something else. The only exemption to this is for plural forms when referring to letters of the alphabet, which is to make it easier to read!
I hope this post has been interesting and informative! Hopefully it will help to make your future writing grammatically correct and professional, so people who look at your writing will see you mean business when it comes to writing.
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Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.