Stamping out Apostrophe Misuse: A guide to understanding the most abused punctuation mark in the English language.

by Stratton Craig

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The notorious greengrocers’ apostrophe has become something of a national nuisance. An ‘easy mistake to make’ it is not – but still, the apostrophe requires rescuing before it becomes lost in the graveyard of all-too-commonly misused and misspelled words, phrases and punctuation marks, lying alongside the corpses of the semi-colon, the word ‘definately’ and the all too common failure to differentiate between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’. So here are three important and easy-to-remember rules for saving face when it comes to apostrophe expertise.

  • Apostrophes can be used to replace a word in an abbreviated phrase e.g. ‘can’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’.
  • An apostrophe followed by the letter ‘s’ should be used to indicate possession. For instance: ‘John Smith’s pen’ or ‘Anne Frank’s diary’. 
  • Things get a bit more complicated with words ending in ‘s’, ‘z’ and sometimes even ‘x’. Some prefer to add another s after a possessive apostrophe (Socrates’s) while others prefer to leave the apostrophe hanging (Euripedes’) The hard and fast rule here is that there is no hard and fast rule. So long as you’re consistent, you’re technically right.