How Hard Can It Be to Use an Apostrophe?

Most of us probably give little thought to the appropriate use of an apostrophe. I say that because I see it used incorrectly in printed messages on the television screen, in periodicals, and even online. And this stuff is written by writing professionals!

People plug in an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong and they don’t insert one when it’s required.

Here’s a primer to help you with this misused punctuation.

  • Apostrophe shows possession. Example: writer’s block.
  • Apostrophe indicates omission of letters or numbers. Examples: ’90s (notice the apostrophe precedes 90 rather than comes after it because the numbers 1 and 9 are omitted) and they’re (this is the contraction for they are and omits the letter a).
  • Apostrophe forms some plurals. Example: She earned all A’s.

There are only three basic rules for using an apostrophe, so I ask, “How hard can it be to use an apostrophe?” Not so hard, really.


3 Responses to How Hard Can It Be to Use an Apostrophe?

  1. Ishana says:

    Completely agree! I always notice apostrophe mistakes, especially with its/it’s. A missed or misplaced apostrophe is forgivable in a casual setting, but when it’s for a published work of any sort, have a little care a proofread!

    Though to be fair, I always was a bit vague on the proper way to write ’90s and similar representations.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Laura says:

    I fear that the apostrophe has lost all meaning and is now used (or omitted) arbitrarily. It won’t be long before other punctuation marks (like the comma) suffer the same fate. I’ve documented hundreds of instances of the misuse of the apostrophe (and other of punctuation marks) made by the professional writers and editors at Yahoo on Terribly Write. — Laura (at

    • Thanks for helping in increasing awareness on how sloppy we’ve become in our written communication. I wonder what’s causing the downward trend–lack of basic education? lack of patience? technology keeping us in an instant-gratification mode so we don’t check something after we’ve written it?

      The comma is an interesting choice of punctuation. I have my college students do one exercise using just commas. I have them insert commas and provide me the reason they chose that place to insert it. Granted, I do provide them a list of reasons such as words in a series, introductory clause, conjunction in compound sentence, dates, numbers, geographical names, etc.

      Also, considering the manuals of style (MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, etc.) disagree on something as simple as the serial comma (comma before the conjunction in a series), you may be right about the fate of the common comma. My experience shows that until people know the rules of comma usage, they appear to fall into one of two camps–they either go comma crazy or insert a comma where they pause to take a breath.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

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