The apostrophe ( ’ or ‘ ) is a punctuation mark and is possibly the most abused punctuation in the English language. A simple Google search will exhibit countless jokes related to poor usage of this mark. While the word ‘apostrophe’ itself is a mouthful, apostrophes need not to be learning catastrophes (pun intended).
The apostrophe has three uses:
- To form possessives of nouns
- To show the omission of letters
- To indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters
Rules for apostrophe use include:
1) Noun does not end in -s (in most cases this means it is singular), add -‘s
- The girl’s bear is soaked from the rain.
- The car’s headlights were broken.
2) Noun is singular and ends in -s, add -‘s
- The canvas’s size is too huge.
- My boss’s belly is expanding.
3) Noun is plural and ends in -s, add only an apostrophe
- The cheerleaders’ pom-poms are colourful.
- It was a guys’ night out.
4) Noun is plural and does not end in -s, add -‘s
- The children’s play received a standing ovation.
- The geese’s precise formation in the sky impressed the pedestrians.
Some words or phrases are awkward to pronounce when the apostrophe is added (“geese’s precise formation,” for example). An author always has the option of rewriting the sentence to avoid this problem (“The precise formation of the geese…”).
5) Exception to the rule #4 is when names of more than one syllable ending in -es.
- We studied Jesus’ nativity and Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.
- Hercules’ sidekick is Pegasus.
6) Do not use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns whose, ours, yours, his, hers, its, or theirs.
7) Some apostrophe mistakes involve the confusion of two words that sound the same but have different meanings.
- Its and it’s. Its is a possessive pronoun, while it’s is a contraction of it is.
- Your and you’re. Your is a possessive pronoun, while you’re is a contraction of you are.
- Whose and who’s. Whose is a possessive pronoun, while who’s is a contraction of who is.
Inadequate usage of apostrophes should not be an excuse for substandard communication skills. Malaysians may have been shamed over the ‘Scissors’ salad fiasco, but here lies an opportunity to redeem ourselves by learning the proper way of placing apostrophes. Take the pledge never to confuse your its with your it’s again!