Friday, February 8, 2013

Punctuation 101: Apostrophes

by Jill Marie Williamson I, Duchess of Carm

I just have to confess to you that sometimes when I write these Punctuation 101 posts, I have to review, and this time, I learned something new. I feel tall.

So here are some rules about apostrophes.

To turn a noun into a possessive form, add an apostrophe s.
Ex: It's Billy's turn to ride the bike.
Ex: A Time to Kill was this reader's favorite book.
Ex: Chris's story is awesome!

Exception: If the word ends in a silent s, add only an apostrophe.
Ex: What was Alexander Dumas' first novel?
Ex: Please take care of the marquis' horse.

Exception: Words that end with the eez sound or two s sounds only get the apostrophe.
Ex: Xerxes' army was massive.
Ex: Jesus' mother was named Mary.

Exception: For plural nouns that already end in s, simply add an apostrophe.
Ex: Please clean the puppies' food dish.

For ... sake!
Add an apostrophe s unless the noun ends in an s, then omit the s after the apostrophe.
Ex: For heaven's sake!
Ex: For Cetheria's hand! (I added this one to show that you can change the expression, but still follow this rule.)
Ex: For goodness' sake!

Descriptive Phrases
Do not use an apostrophe when the noun is used in a descriptive sense rather than showing possession. If something is FOR a certain group or OF a certain thing, omit the apostrophe.
Ex: I'm going to a writers conference. (A conference FOR writers.)
Ex: Anne Shirley went to a teachers college. (A college FOR teachers.)
Ex: I got a copy of Speak from a used books sale at my library. (A sale OF used books.)

Omitted Letters or Numbers
This is the one that I see wrong most often. And it's tricky because sometimes your word processing program flips the apostrophes around, to which I say, "Grrr."

Use an apostrophe to replace omitted letters in a word. If your font uses curly quotes, make sure that the apostrophe curls in the right direction. It is an apostrophe, not a single quote, so there should never be a debate as to which direction it should go. It is an apostrophe because it is showing a letter that is missing, just like in a contraction. So whether the apostrophe comes in the front of the word, the middle, or the back, it should look like this: ’

Ex: There be no tellin’ what he’ll do now. (The apostrophe takes the place of the g in “telling.”)
Ex: All you kids do is sit around listening to that loud rock ’n’ roll. (The apostrophe before the n takes the place of the a in “and.” The apostrophe after the n takes the place of the d ion “and.”
Ex: I won’t come out ’til you promise not to laugh! (The apostrophe takes the place of the un in “until.”)
Ex: I graduated high school in the class of ’93. (The ’ takes the place of the “19” in “1993.”)

An’ that’s all I have t’ say ’bout that.


  1. I learn so much from reading these things! Now, I feel prepared for a grammer test I have today : )

  2. Thanks for the post! It seems like teachers never cover the really tricky punctuation in class at my junior high classes.

    1. Well, there isn't always a reason to know every little thing. Unless you're writing a book. LOL

  3. :An’ that’s all I have t’ say ’bout that." LOL, Ms. Jill! That literally made me laugh out loud.

    This is (again) a really helpful review. I actually just did the plurals and possessives lesson in English these past few days! One thing I just can't figure out is that I see people's names like this: James's sometimes. :P I always thought you just did: James'. But my English book wasn't very clear and my mom wasn't certain either.

    Which way is right?

    1. :-P

      There are different rule sets. The Chicago Manual of Style sometimes does things differently than the Associated Press one. The AP one is for newspaper and article writing. CMOS is for books. So that's part of it. I always go by the CMOS since I write books. Try and get a used copy of it. It's handy to have on your shelf for when you're stuck.

  4. Thanks so much for this post, Jill! It can be so confusing sometimes.

  5. Thanks for clearing up my confusion on possesives with a silent 's'.
    I hate it when apostrophes are used incorrectly - especially when people put them before the 's' in a plural word. One of my pet peeves.

    1. LOL We all have pet peeves. One of my biggest is when I catch myself doing one of my pet peeves by accident. That's the WORST!

  6. "by Jill Marie Williamson I, Duchess of Carm" :D

    Hmm I didn't know about the writers conference thing, I have been doing it wrong. And also,is it 1980s or 1980's? I think some elementary school teacher told me it was 1980s, but in general you see the other one....

    Anyway, thanks for the post!

    1. Hee hee. :-)

      I KNOW! That's the one I just learned. No more wondering about that apostrophe. I'm pretty excited about that.

      No apostrophe in the 1980s. Unless you're making it possessive. Ex: A 1980's rock band.

  7. Would "drivers seat" have an apostrophe? So e.g. "He leans over from the drivers seat to open the passenger door." thanks :)

    1. You know, by the rule I stated, it wouldn't need it. But I've always seen it with one. I suppose in the end, the publisher would make that decision. I think you could leave it out if you wanted to since it's descriptive.

    2. It was a short story for English, that's what I thought too but my teacher said it should have had one. Grr. Oh well. The rest of the story was good :)