Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Abused Apostrophe

The Abused Apostrophe

By M. Roberts, Guest Blogger

Such a small thing can make a BIG difference in one’s writing. It can affect the entire meaning of a word or sentence. The apostrophe, ( ’ or ' ) is a punctuation mark, and a diacritical mark (accent mark). It may seem like a tiny matter to a student when writing a formal paper, but when it changes the gist of a thought, it is a BIG deal. Incorrect use of an apostrophe can lower one’s grade substantially.

Here are a few rules to remember and follow about the little apostrophe:

1. s Use this at the end of a noun to make it possessive.

For example: Mary’s purse, Bob’s dog, Lillian’s home, Charles’s friend (note that Charles ends with an s? Whatever the noun ends with, one STILL puts the apostrophe at the end of the noun).

2. ‘s In this case, the apostrophe is a contraction, meaning the two words: it is.

For example: It’s 8:00, it’s time to go, it’s all right, it’s my name, it’s your book, it’s fine, it’s the name of the class, it’s the best one yet, it’s going to be OK. (Do not forget, however, in formal papers contractions are not necessarily proper nor allowed.)

3. Its. The word. Often students wrongly place an apostrophe in this word when it is not needed. This is a gender neutral word, which is quite appropriate in formal writing. Use this word when one refers to groups of people:

For example: The researchers kept all subjects to its same rigorous standards. There is a place for everything, and everything has its place. Children and dogs scrambled to get out of its way.


  1. I can happily say that the above examples are easy to remember, but, got anything on "she/he" versus "her/him" :)

  2. Yes, avoid it at all costs...well, not all costs. But do whatever you can to avoid the dreaded he/she. Use he, they, an individual or group names like veterans, participants, teachers,etc. Some suggest using "one" but that is sort of stilted.