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English Corner: Pity the Misunderstood Apostrophe 30 July 2007

Filed under: Correct English Usage — worddocdooley @ 8:24am

The grammatical cousin of the bored teenager, the apostrophe can often be found hanging out in all the wrong places. Or just being plain useless. Worrying or confusing everything that crosses its path.

Take, for example, the following as a case in point:

“Choose from 1000’s of DVD’s…”


“Visit Brighton, for refreshing sea view’s…”

Both are not as innocent as they seem on the surface.

Incorrect use of punctuation – and here, we are specifically referring to the humble apostrophe – can weaken your writing and your message, as well as trip up your reader.

So here are some dos and don’t in the world of apostrophes:

• And it’s all right, now…

Ah, yes, the king of confusion – ”it’s” is a contraction of “it is”. However, it’s often presented as “its”. This is bad. And should be avoided. Unless, of course, you mean “its” in the possessive sense of the word. For example:

“It’s about time it showed its true colours.”

Here “it’s” means “it is” and “its” (without the apostrophe) indicates that something belongs to “it”.

• Ps and Qs, Dos and Don’ts…

You do NOT need an apostrophe to pluralise. OK, it’s tempting to slip in a quick apostrophe, but that would be mere folly. Apart from the obvious one – “don’ts” – which is correct in this instance.

There is neither a contraction nor a possessiveness connected with numbers, abbreviations or the “dos” in the world.

So the following are correct:

“There are 100s of them out there.”

“You only ever saw two PCs, but that was in the 1970s.”

“The MPs had 1,000s of complaints.”

So remember, only use an apostrophe for a missing letter or, in every other case apart for “its”, when something ‘owns’ something else. (“It’s amazing to think that the project’s deadline was met.”)

Please send me any ‘grammar gaffes’ via the ‘comments’ section here, and I’ll pop them in a future post on this blog.

Want to use this in your ezine, blog or website? No problem! Just let me know. I’ll send you a short resource box/bio to include at the end of the article.

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