Right! We did semi-colons in the last tutorial (see here). I thought I would tackle the apostrophe next. It’s another member in the punctuation cast list which has only a few functions but seems to cause an awful lot of confusion.
So, children, you’ve had morning break, please go back to your desks.
Stephen! Don’t try and carry the chair with Al still on it, dear.
Chris! Please don’t put that eraser in Carol’s ear. Pardon Chris? Yes, I know it’s soft, but she still doesn’t like it.
Sorry, Jim, what did you say? You want to put your raincoat on in case it rains? It won’t rain indoors, dear. No, Yvonne certainly won’t pour water over you.
Dan, please don’t fill Lois’s satchel with milk.
Kat!!!!!!………..Please don’t do that.
(In memory of the very wonderful Joyce Grenfell)
So, if we are all sitting comfortably…
The apostrophe has three main functions:
1. To indicate possession and is placed before the ‘s’:
Carol’s ear, Daddy’s car…elephant’s trunk, cat’s paw….
If the possession is of a plural noun, the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’:
Two elephants’ trunks (the trunks of two elephants), two cats’ paws (the paws of two cats), the Smiths’ daughter (the daughter of the Smiths (Mr and Mrs))
If the noun is plural but does not end in ‘s’, the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’:
Children’s toys, women’s clothes
In the case of names that end in ‘s’, eg. James, an extra ‘s’ is optional:
James’ or James’s
Either is acceptable (though consistency is important), but the latter is preferable.
Think: ‘Of/belonging to’:
That coat is yours CORRECT
That coat is your’s INCORRECT (This would translate as That coat is of your)
That coat is Carol’s CORRECT (That coat is of/belongs to Carol)
2 Where one or more letters have been omitted, especially when two words are contracted:
Eg: Don’t (do not), won’t (will not), it’s (it is), haven’t (have not), she’d (she had or would), you’re (you are), he’s (he is or he has), can’t (cannot), singin’ in the rain.
Think: Does the sentence make sense if you uncontract.
The cat licked it’s paws INCORRECT (This would translate as: The cat licked it is paws)
The cat licked its paws CORRECT
3 Apostrophes are never used in plurals other than in very exceptional circumstances:
Mind your p’s and q’s, don’t forget to cross your t’s
This is a much rarer usage, but in this instance think if ps and qs or ts might cause confusion. However – Ps, Qs and Ts would also be acceptable.
The Beatles were very popular in the 1990’s INCORRECT (This would translate as The Beatles were very popular in the of 1990)
The Beatles were very popular in the 1990s CORRECT
And that’s it! These are the very basic rules, but should stand you in good stead to avoid the most common misuse of the apostrophe.