Gotcha Grammar: The Most Common Writing Mistakes Explained—Conquering the Apostrophe

Our team of copywriters creates large volumes of content every day. From print ads to website copy for education and search engine optimization (SEO), there are words written by marketing professionals on pretty much every subject you could imagine nowadays. Grammar is one of the most important elements of copywriting. While proofreading is crucial to preventing grammatical errors, sometimes they just slip through. We understand that the English language is pretty confusing sometimes. There are plenty of exceptions to every rule.

One of the most common errors in writing is misuse of the apostrophe. There are three accepted uses of an apostrophe:

  1. In possessive nouns (to show something belongs to someone: John’s blog.)
  2. To show the omission of letters or numbers (like in contractions: can’t, don’t, the ‘60s, etc.)
  3. To pluralize lowercase letters (like in “mind your p’s and q’s; not necessary when you pluralize capitalized letters, numbers, or symbols though some editors prefer them.)

Apostrophes are not needed to pluralize regular words (“Hand me the portfolio’s” vs. “Hand me the portfolios“). When you’re wondering if you should include an apostrophe on a word like this, ask yourself if the word you’re adding the ‘s to owns the word after it.

For example, in the sentence “Teacher’s shape lives,” the teachers are not in possession of shape or lives. Therefore, the sentence should be written, “Teachers shape lives.” In the sentence, “Jill’s battery died,” the battery belongs to Jill and so an apostrophe to show possession should be used. Other examples include the following:

  • My brothers both work in public relations.
  • The kitten’s fur is soft.
  • McCauley’s marketing tips are useful.
  • James’s sister ate my candy. (“James’ sister” is also acceptable since the noun [James] ends in S)

When the subject in possession of something is plural, the apostrophe goes outside the S, as opposed to inside between the word and the S. For example, “three cats’ toys” indicates that three cats (more than one) are in possession of the toys. Other examples include the following:

  • “five designers’ applications”
  • “seven writers’ drafts”
  • “all the flowers’ petals”

Another tip: you can add ‘s to the end of compound phrases, “my mother-in-law’s recipe,” and to the end of the final noun in cases of joint possession, “Sam and Christy’s presentation.”

There’s only one exception to these rules: its and it’s. Because the possessive and contraction of the word “it” would both involve an apostrophe according to traditional rules, there’s a small caveat to the original rules. The possessive “it” does not have an apostrophe: “The dog chased its tail.” Meanwhile, the contraction “it is” does involve an apostrophe: “It’s time to start holiday advertising.”

The proper use of the apostrophe is one grammar rules where it seems like the exceptions are endless. We hope our explanation helps sort out the proper use of the apostrophe so all your writing and website content management can be grammatically correct!

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